On behalf of the Federal Office of Public Health, the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute (Swiss TPH) analysed the health consequences of the hot and dry summer of 2019 and compared it to the hot summers of 2003, 2015 and 2018. The results were published this week in the report "Health effects of heat in Switzerland and the importance of prevention measures". The report shows that high temperatures are a strain on health and cause additional deaths, and that preventive measures contribute to protecting the population from heat-related health hazards.
High temperatures cause additional deaths. This is shown by the previous analyses of the hot summers of 2003, 2015 and 2018 as well as the analysis of the hot summer of 2019. (Photo: Myriam Zilles, Pixabay)
The summer of 2019 has been the third hottest summer in Switzerland since systematic measurements began in 1864. Switzerland was hit by a 7-day heat wave both at the end of June and at the end of July with mean daily maximum temperatures of 32-34°C. The warmest temperatures were recorded in Ticino, followed by the Lake Geneva region and northwestern Switzerland. Eastern Switzerland was the coolest.
Heat is a health hazard
Around 460 more people died in Switzerland in the summer of 2019 (June to August) than expected based on the previous ten years. This corresponds to a statistically significant excess mortality rate of 3.0%. Mortality was highest in the warmest month of July followed by June with men and women being similarly impacted and people aged 85 and over being most affected.
Impact of prevention measures
Overall, the increase in the number of daily deaths during the two heat waves in the summer of 2019 was smaller than during earlier heat waves. This indicates that the authorities have taken successful measures and that the population has been made aware of the health risks associated with heat. "The analysis for summer 2019 and the comparison with previous hot summers is a further indication that the measures taken in recent years and the associated sensitisation have had a preventive effect," said Martina Ragettli of Swiss TPH and author of the report. Coordinated activities to inform the population and health professionals and specific measures to protect people at risk during heat waves - as provided for in heat action plans - are still recommended in view of increasing heat stress.
Furthermore, long-term measures to adapt to increasing heat stress, which prevents excessive heating of cities and buildings, are essential. Special attention should be paid during hot days and when temperatures fluctuate, especially for those over 75 years old and live alone. Protection concepts are important for this population group during the whole summer, also during moderately hot temperatures and short-term temperature fluctuations in summer as they are considered an additional health risk.