The excessive heat is suspected in two Independence deaths in recent weeks, city officials said Monday night.

The excessive heat is suspected in two Independence deaths in recent weeks, city officials said Monday night.

Across the entire metropolitan region, seven suspect heat-related deaths are under investigation.

The Independence Health Department alone has received reports of 23 cases of heat-related illness this summer, which is a typical number of reports in an entire year, Health Department Director Larry Jones said.

But perhaps what is most surprising in the recent streak of dangerously hot weather is the average age of those who reported heat-related illness – no, the average age wasn’t that of a toddler or a senior citizen, two groups that are often susceptible to heat-related illness, but it was 39 years old.

“I think that might come as a surprise to people in some ways,” City Manager Robert Heacock said, “because perhaps there is a perception that heat illnesses only strike the elderly in our community. In fact, people who are relatively young are oftentimes folks who are out there, working in their yards, maybe not really paying attention to the impact that the heat is having on their body until it’s too late.”

Those who remain most at risk for heat-related illness, Jones said, include those up to age 4 and those 65 years and older; people who are overweight or have chronic conditions; outdoor workers; athletes; and people who are ill or on certain medications.

Rather than wait until experiencing thirst – which is when a person is already dehydrated or is experiencing heat exhaustion – Jones said residents should drink more water than usual, including two to four cups for every hour while working or exercising outside.

“If we’re outside, we need to be completely filling ourselves with fluid – and that fluid needs to be water,” Jones said. “It doesn’t need to be a sweetened drink, and it does not need to be alcohol, which is high in calories.”

He also reminded residents to provide enough water and shade for outdoor pets, as they feel the effects of the heat just as much as, if not more than, humans.

Residents are encouraged to remain in air-conditioned buildings as much as possible during these conditions, but if that isn’t possible, Jones said, they shouldn’t rely on just a fan as the primary cooling device.

“If you’re using a fan, please be sure that you have the windows open in your building. Without that, it’s just like being in an oven – all you’re doing is moving the hot air around and baking yourself,” Jones said. “Some of our heat deaths, in the past, have been because people were sitting inside their homes, all windows locked, and having a fan moving on them. Please do not do that.”

“Cooling stations,” or areas where residents can seek relief from the heat, are available during the normal business hours at the Sermon, Palmer and Fairmount Community centers; the YMCA; branches of the Mid-Continent Public Library; and the Salvation Army. Citizens also can call United Way at 211 for information on the closest cooling centers and their hours.

Check on neighbors, too, during the hot weather, especially those who are older than 65 or who have chronic illnesses. Jones recommended checking in on them at least twice daily.

“We normally talk about it taking a village to raise children, but it also takes a village to keep our aging taken care of or our neighbors taken care,” he said, “so take time to do that.”