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New data show heatstroke is deadly even at night

TOKYO — A total of 310 people died of heatstroke in those periods, 81 of whom died during the night. Among the nocturnal fatalities, 65, or about 80 percent, died indoors and had not used an air conditioner.

The number of sweltering nights, on which the lowest temperature does not drop below 25 C, has been on the rise in recent years. Experts are calling for people to take preventive measures against heatstroke, including using air conditioners at night as well as during the day.

The statistics show that, during the five years, there were a total of 119 daytime heatstroke deaths from 5 a.m. to 5 p.m., plus the 81 at night and 110 at unknown times. With variation from year to year, 13 percent to 34 percent of the victims died at night.

Continuing the pattern, four of the 14 heatstroke deaths to have occurred this year as of Aug. 13 happened at night.

Among the deaths in the five years, 278, or about 90 percent, happened indoors. Of those victims, 239 did not use air conditioners.

Also, 240, or nearly 80 percent of the indoor victims, were people aged 65 or older.

Among the elderly deaths, 66 people died at night. This shows that among a total of 81 people who died at night, over 80 percent of them were elderly.

"There have been a number of cases in which elderly people were debilitated due to high temperatures during the day, their condition became more serious at night and then they died," a Tokyo Medical Examiner's Office official in charge of the issue said.

The number of sweltering nights, which can cause heatstroke deaths, has been on the rise nationwide.

The annual average number of such nights from 2005 to 2014 was 24.7 — more than double the 11.2 seen from 1931 to 1940, according to the Japan Meteorological Agency's research in 13 locations across the nation, including Choshi, Chiba Prefecture, and Hikone, Shiga Prefecture.

This tendency is even more pronounced in urban areas. From 2005 to 2014 Tokyo had 34.9 such nights, or a 4.9-fold increase; Yokohama had 26.1, or a 5.4-fold increase; Nagoya had 28.8, or a 41.1-fold increase; and Kyoto had 26.9, or a 15.8-fold increase.

The increases are believed to have been affected by the heat island phenomenon, in which heat trapped in asphalt over roads and in concrete buildings is discharged at night, meaning temperatures tend not to fall despite the sun setting.

Elderly people need to be careful not to have a heatstroke particularly at night as their physical functions for storing water in the body are weak. There are also many elderly people who try to avoid drinking water to keep from using the bathroom often. This means they are likely dehydrated while sleeping, and thus become vulnerable to heatstroke.

A health care consultation room called "Kurashi no Hokenshitsu," is run at a Tokyo metropolitan housing complex in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo. In the room, elderly people complain about the initial symptoms of heatstroke, such as leg cramps. Some of them avoid using air conditioners at night due to their worry about electricity bills, according to the consultation room staff.

Jun Kanda, an expert on emergency medicine at Teikyo University who is knowledgeable about measures against heatstroke, said that elderly people "must be conscious about their conditions during sleeping hours by drinking water in advance. If they feel it is hot, it's better to continue running the air conditioner until the following morning."

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