Ontario coroner investigating 3 potential heat-related deaths

Blanche Robertson
July 13, 2018

Dr. Huyer said that assessing whether heat caused a death can be "very, very hard", as a result of the large number of factors that can affect a person's health.

Public health officials say as many as 70 people have died of heat-related complications in Quebec during a long-lasting heat wave with temperatures exceeding 40 with the humidex.

The deaths were first reported to the coroner's office within the past four days, Dr. Dirk Huyer told reporters during a teleconference Tuesday afternoon.

Numerous deaths reported in Quebec may be cases of people who suffered from chronic diseases - such as cancer, lung disease or a heart condition - made worse by the extreme heat, Huyer said.

The number of possible heat-related deaths reported by Huyer is significantly lower than those reported in Quebec.

"The ones that we do investigate would be deaths that would be more typically accidental, and so they would be situations of heat stroke, when somebody dies from the direct effects of heat".

In Ontario, only "accidental" deaths where heat is believed to be the sole factor - such as a child being left alone in a hot auto - are investigated as heat-related.

In each case, an investigation has been launched to determine whether heat was the primary cause of death.

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Dr. Huyer did not comment on where the deaths took place because of the potential of identifying the victims. Interviews with family members, an autopsy and analysis of medical records are part of the process.

"And sometimes when the initial tests are done, there may be more tests that may be done from that", Huyer said.

Quebec's last extreme heat wave happened in the Montreal area between July 6 and 11, 2010.

The heat wave was so intense that a stretch of highway near Windsor, Ont. buckled on July 1. Montreal's morgue ran out of room during the heat wave and was forced to partner with a funeral home to store bodies.

Throw informed that nearly every day in the morgue receives 15 new bodies, so to fill all 128 seats in the morgue didn't take much time.

In Ontario, hospital visits linked to the heat have spiked, according to Dr. David Williams, Ontario's chief medical officer of health.

People need to take extreme heat warnings seriously, Huyer said, and make a point of checking on family members and friends who may be more vulnerable.

"I'm concerned that as we deal with changing climate, if the frequency of the heat alerts increases and the length and severity of it increases, how will our current system adapt and respond to those extra stresses?" "And if certain numbers of those deaths [turn out not to be] heat-related, we just have to conclude that it's a natural death", she said.

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