Heat waves: excess mortality observed during the heat waves of summer 2022

Posted Nov 22, 2022, 6:00 a.m.Updated Nov. 22, 2022, 11:28 a.m.

It is a traumatic memory that is revived by each heatwave episode in France. The heat wave of August 2003 and its 15,000 deaths in three weeks remain in everyone’s memory. Since then, each episode of high heat has resulted in substantial excess mortality. The summer of 2022, and its three successive heat waves, was no exception to the rule. According to a report published Monday evening by Santé Publique France (SPF), this period was marked by an excess of 10,420 deaths in France, i.e. an excess mortality of 6.1%. This is the highest excess mortality recorded since the implementation of the National Heat Wave Plan in 2004.

During the only 33 days of heat wave that hit the country between June and August 2022, the excess mortality from all causes at the national level is estimated at 2,816 deaths, i.e. a relative excess mortality of 16.7%. The greatest excess mortality was observed during the second heat wave (+22.7%), from July 9 to 27.

The impact of Covid to be taken into consideration

However, the public establishment is careful not to give the precise causes of these deaths. The excess deaths observed “cannot be solely attributable to the heat”, notes SPF. Caution remains in order because the summer of 2022 was also marked by a resurgence of the Covid epidemic.

Over the three periods of heat wave (from June 14 to 22, from July 9 to 27 and from July 29 to August 14), 894 deaths linked to the epidemic were recorded in hospitals and in medico-social establishments. “These deaths cannot be subtracted from the excess mortality observed during heat waves,” the report explains. The Covid “may have increased the vulnerability to heat for some people, and exposure to heat may have worsened the condition of some patients”, underlines SPF.

However, several lessons can be highlighted. Four regions account for nearly two-thirds of the national excess: Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes (+473 deaths), New Aquitaine (+436 deaths), Occitanie (+509 deaths) and Provence-Alpes-Côte-D’azur ( +316 deaths). The latter were the most affected by the heat waves, more intensely in the South-West and repeatedly and lastingly in the South-East.

Moreover, the elderly are the most affected. Of the 2,816 excess deaths observed during the three heat wave episodes this summer, 2,272 were recorded in people aged 75 and over, i.e. nearly 80% of deaths.

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Between June 1 and September 15, more than 20,000 calls for heat-related care were recorded. These calls for care have doubled in emergencies and tripled for SOS doctors consultations during periods of heat waves, compared to periods outside heat waves. They concern the entire population.

This assessment confirms that heat is a major health risk and “underlines the need for a strengthened climate change adaptation and mitigation strategy”, says SPF.

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