By John Ensor •
Published: 25 Aug 2023 • 11:22
Image of a sweating man holding a thermometer.
Credit: Pop Paul-Catalin/Shutterstock.com
This summer’s extreme temperatures have resulted in over 1,800 deaths in Spain, a shocking reminder of the previous year’s devastating heat.
Since June 1, the Daily Mortality Monitoring System (MoMo) of the Carlos III Health Institute has recorded 95,904 deaths. Of these, 1,834 have been directly linked to the scorching heat. The data shows a peak on August 12 with 79 deaths. However, the latest figures from August 22 indicate 68 heat-related deaths, though these numbers are continually updated, according to Nuis Diario.
‘The impact of heat isn’t merely a heat stroke, which is the least of concerns. The heat itself is a stress for the body,’ says Dominic Roye, Head of Data Science at the Climate Research Foundation (FIC). He, along with Aurelio Tobias from the Centre Superior of Scientific Investigations (CSIC) and Carmen Iñiguez from the University of Valencia, recently launched the Summer Heat Attributable Mortality in Spain (MACE) application.
According to Roye, MACE offers a ‘far more modern’ statistical estimate than MoMo, which still employs a 1990s methodology. MACE’s data suggests that from June 1 to 22 August 22, there were 8,821 heat-attributable deaths. However, it doesn’t account for geographical differences, gender, and age groups, potentially overlooking many more fatalities.
MACE utilises MoMo’s death data and average temperatures provided by Aemet. Their findings reveal that 3,034 of these deaths occurred on days of extreme heat. August saw 10 such days, resulting in 1,883 deaths, while July had five days leading to 1,151 deaths. June had none.
Roye explains that the mortality rate spikes when the average temperature reaches 26.9ºC. This summer’s average was 24.5ºC, with August at 26.2ºC and July at 25.3ºC. Although this summer has been extreme, it hasn’t been as severe as 2022, which witnessed 28 days of extreme heat and 8,815 related deaths. Official data from the INE indicates that mortality surged by 20 per cent between May and August 2022, with heat stroke and dehydration deaths doubling compared to three years prior.
Heat strokes account for only 2 to 3 per cent of heat-related deaths. The primary concern is the exacerbation of existing health issues, particularly cardiovascular and respiratory ailments. A 2021 study co-authored by Roye highlighted the dangers of hot nights in southern Europe. It found that daily mortality is linked to nighttime temperatures exceeding 20ºC, irrespective of daytime heat. Climate change is increasing both maximum and minimum temperatures.
Poor sleep due to extreme heat also poses health risks. Ana Teijeira, a neurophysiologist from the Spanish Sleep Society (SES), states that optimal sleep occurs between 18 and 21ºC. However, temperatures above 24ºC make it nearly impossible. This recent heatwave saw nights nearing 30ºC in parts of Spain. The consequences range from fatigue and irritability to long-term issues like hormonal changes and increased risk of heart attacks.
To combat the heat, Teijeira suggests maintaining a regular sleep schedule, wearing light clothing, ensuring a dark environment, and aiming for room temperatures between 18 and 21ºC. If these conditions aren’t achievable, a warm shower, not too cold, can help lower the body’s temperature, signalling it’s time to rest.
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Originally from Doncaster, Yorkshire, John now lives in Galicia, Northern Spain with his wife Nina.
He is passionate about news, music, cycling and animals.
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