PHOENIX (NEWSnet/AP) — During the past five weeks, 50 people have been hospitalized with contact burns at Valleywise Health Medical Center in Phoenix, which operates a burn center serving patients from several Southwest states.

Four of those people have died, according to its director, Dr. Kevin Foster.

Last year, the center admitted 136 patients for surface burns from June through August, up from 85 during the same period in 2022, Foster said. Fourteen died. 

And in Las Vegas, which regularly sees summer-time highs in the triple-digits, 22 people were hospitalized in June alone at the University Medical Center’s Lions Burn Care Center, said spokesperson Scott Kerbs. That's nearly half as many as the 46 hospitalized during all three summer months last year.

The statistics help illustrate the danger of scorching hot sun and heat wave conditions.

Young children, older adults and homeless people are especially at risk for contact burns, which can occur in seconds when skin touches a surface of 180 degrees Fahrenheit.

“Last year’s record heat wave brought an alarming number of patients with life-threatening burns,” Foster said of a 31-day period, including all of last July, when temperatures were at or above 110 degrees during Phoenix’s hottest summer ever.

One of those patients was Ron Falk, who collapsed last year on searing asphalt outside a Phoenix convenience store where he stopped to get a cold soft drink wave. The burn injuries meant Falk lost his right leg, had extensive skin grafting on the left leg, and uses a wheelchair to get around.

“If you don’t get somewhere to cool down, the heat will affect you,” said Falk, who lost consciousness due to heat stroke. “Then you won’t know what’s happening, like in my case.”

Thermal injuries were among the main or contributing causes of last year’s 645 heat-related deaths in Maricopa County, which encompasses Phoenix.

One of those examples was an 82-year-old woman with dementia and heart disease admitted to a suburban Phoenix hospital after found on the scorching pavement on an August day that hit 106 degrees.

The woman was rushed to the hospital, but she already had a body temperature of 105 degrees along with second-degree burns on her back and right side. She died three days later.

Other skin-burn victims treated in the past two years, both in Phoenix and Las Vegas, were children.

“In many cases, this involves toddlers walking or crawling onto hot surfaces,” Kerbs said of those hospitalized at the Las Vegas center.

Testing has found that fabric covers over playground equipment and picnic tables can limit temperature rises on metal surfaces, rubber ground cover and handrails.

And veterinarians recommend dogs wear booties to protect their paws during outdoor walks in summer, or keeping them on cooler grassy areas. Owners are also advised to make sure their pets drink plenty of water and don’t get overheated.

Phoenix bans dogs from the city’s popular hiking trails on days the National Weather Service issues an excessive heat warning.

As a way to help mitigate the injuries, Valleywise hospital’s emergency department recently adopted a new protocol for all heat-stroke victims, submerging patients in a bag of slushy ice to quickly bring down body temperature. The Phoenix Fire Department also has begun following that procedure.

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