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How did 10,000 people die in France from the heat?!(27 posts)

How did 10,000 people die in France from the heat?!PdxMark
Aug 21, 2003 11:09 AM
How is that possible? It looks like it was mostly the elderly & disabled. How did it not happen anyplace else? Of course, I understand the effects of heat on dehydration on an individual, but how could such a catastrophe slip by unnoticed until the end?
Their superior social healthcare system at workTJeanloz
Aug 21, 2003 11:22 AM
Couldn't help the swipe.

It didn't go unnoticed - the death toll was reported daily, as it rose from 100, to 1,000, to 5,000 and on up. There are a few factors:

1. It was REALLY hot. 100+ degrees at my house.

2. These people have never heard of air conditioning. As an aside, they see no correlation between the "superiority" of their electrical grid, and their lack of air conditioning.

3. They also have never heard of iced beverages.

4. It was definitely not from overworking.

Seriously though, heat waves of this magnitude are deadly. Chicago seems to have one almost every year that kills a lot of old people. I had half the kids in the village over every day to swim in my pool - it was hot.
Hey TJ - what do you do?sacheson
Aug 21, 2003 11:29 AM
and can I apprentice?

Jeesh ... house in Boston, one in France - and a swimming pool in the French house ... splitting your time between the two?

Man ... I'm jealous.
OH ...sacheson
Aug 21, 2003 11:29 AM
... and never taking vacations to boot.
It's not all fun and games,TJeanloz
Aug 21, 2003 11:34 AM
Investment banker. Office in Boston, office in Paris, house in Nice (it's a tough commute). About half of my clients are European, so I split time between Boston and France (either Paris or Nice). It isn't as much fun as it sounds like it would be (but almost).
Aug 22, 2003 6:08 AM
Holocaust of the elderly: death toll in French heatwave rises to 10,000
By John Lichfield in Paris
22 August 2003

The summer of 2003 will be remembered as the year of the holocaust of the French elderly.

France was reeling yesterday from figures that suggested some 10,000 people - mostly over the age of 75 - were killed by this month's heatwave, double the previous estimate.

As a political storm raged over blame for the deaths, President Jacques Chirac called an emergency cabinet meeting and promised an inquiry to examine "with complete openness" the failings of the health and welfare system.

Half the victims are believed to have died in old people's homes, many operating with fewer staff during the August holidays. Many hospitals had closed complete wards for the month and were unable to offer sophisticated, or sometimes even basic, treatment to victims. About 2,000 people are thought to have died in their homes from the effects of dehydration and other heat- related problems while neighbours and relatives were away.

Such was the death rate - described officially as a period of "surplus mortality" - that families are now having to wait for up to two weeks for a funeral because of a shortage of coffins, priests and grave-diggers.

M. Chirac, who has been criticisedfor refusing to break off his two-week holiday in Quebec, promised in a nationwide address yesterday that "everything will be done to correct the shortcomings" exposed by the disaster. "Many fragile people died alone in their homes," he admitted.

Senior health officials have claimed ministers reacted slowly to warnings in early August that a calamity was in the making, while the Health Minister, Jean-François Mattei, has insisted he was not given adequate advice. By the time he and the Prime Minister, Jean-Pierre Raffarin, broke off holidays last week and ordered the emergency recall of hospital staff, the worst of the 10-day heatwave was over. Earlier this week, the director general of health, Lucien Abenhaim, resigned, complaining ministers had ignored his warnings, including a plea that military and Red Cross hospitals should be commandeered to ease the burden on state hospitals.

Many healthcare professionals - including the doctor, former health minister and founder of Médécins Sans Frontières, Bernard Kouchner - said it had been a disaster waiting to happen. "We are all to blame," Dr Kouchner said, irritating many of his colleagues on the left, who had hoped the crisis would help them to destabilise the centre-right government and head off health reforms planned this autumn.

Dr Michel Dèsmaizieres, an emergency service doctor in Paris, told the newspaper Libération: "It is just not right to see [patients on] trolleys in the corridors, while whole wards were empty and locked up. In the retirement homes there were people with a body temperature of 42C [108F], for whom we could offer nothing but a little comfort."

M. Mattei, also a former doctor, reluctantly admitted earlier this week that as many as 5,000 extra deaths were recorded - 80 per cent of them old people - in the first half of this month. However, France's largest funeral directors' association has now calculated that there were at least 10,000 extra deaths in the period up to Wednesday of this week, many of them on 12 August when temperatures peaked at more than 100F (37.8C) in northern France. About half the extra deaths were in the Paris area.

Government officials described these figures as "plausible" but urged caution until an official investigation was completed next month.

Dr Marc Harboun, a specialist geriatrics from Ivry, near Paris, said: "This death rate is due to a lack of people and means to reduce the temperature [of the patients]. Medically, we could cope by increasing the dosage in transfusions but, for the other things we needed to do - making the patients drink, dampening them down - we didn't have the time."

Aug 22, 2003 6:08 AM
Officials said 85 per cent of all public and private retirement homes in France were permanently understaffed. At holiday times, staffing levels fell even further.

One woman, Claude Guérin, described how she took her elderly aunt to a hospital on the Côte d'Azur, suffering from pulmonary problems brought on by the heat. "She was 96, but she was fighting fit before the heatwave," said Mme Guérin.

"At first she was put in an air-conditioned revival room but then she was abruptly transferred to a ward where it was 50C [122F]. I talked to two nurses. One said: 'I don't have time to bother with her.' The other said: 'Get her out of here.' But the doctors would not let her go. Three days later, she died."
Political fallout.Jon Billheimer
Aug 21, 2003 11:34 AM
There's a heck of a lot of political fallout happening over this disaster--as there should be. According to one CBC report that I saw it was suggested that emergency medical, home care and other services may have been seriously understaffed due to the French national habit of vacationing in August. Reportedly, the whole country is sort of on autopilot at this time. Don't know how true or objective this is, though.
Oh it's true...TJeanloz
Aug 21, 2003 11:35 AM
France views the Month of August like Americans view Christmas Day or the Fourth of July - it is their God-given right to have that month off. Woe unto you if you should need anything in France in the month of August, the place is completely shut down.
not just france either.rufus
Aug 21, 2003 3:38 PM
i know italy, and probably much of western europe do the same. august is vacation month.
Was it as hot elsewhere in Europe? nmPdxMark
Aug 21, 2003 11:45 AM
Yes, 100+ degrees in the U.K. etc.TJeanloz
Aug 21, 2003 11:49 AM
France has higher preliminary numbers than other countries, but maybe not much higher, in the final analysis. The legitimate factors are:

1. France's population is generally older, and generally in more, relatively poorly funded "retirement" homes. Nursing care is not exceptional, and staffing was low due to the August vacations. So, in a roundabout way, the social healthcare system is part of the problem.

2. The heatwave has been long - remember, it was already on during the Tour, and that was more than a month ago.
what is your source for #1?dr hoo
Aug 21, 2003 12:15 PM
I just heard the claim that the french tend to have a relatively low rate of elderly in homes, with a higher number living with relatives (compared to the US).

I'm not being contentious, merely curious.
Aug 21, 2003 12:22 PM
Most of my older relatives live in homes. I don't know of a family that has a live-in elderly person. I do know of several really old people who live alone. I would say that, in my experience, more old people are in homes in France than in the US.

But I can't back that up.
could be class based.dr hoo
Aug 21, 2003 1:44 PM
I would guess that the people you know are mostly middle-upper class. Maybe the working class deals with the situation differently?

That would mirror the situation in the usa, where lower classes are more likely to have relatives live with them, while the more affluent have the option of homes.
It could be,TJeanloz
Aug 21, 2003 1:56 PM
I'm not really sure how it breaks out by class. But there are certainly government-funded homes that people of lesser means live in. You are right though, the people I know are a relatively small sample, but not entirely upper-middle class.
Swipe aside...filtersweep
Aug 21, 2003 1:21 PM
...god forbid I'm agreeing with you ;) but I don't think they really have building inspectors in France either. #2 is hilarious after I thought about it a minute. First thing I noticed was no AC anywhere- and it doesn't help dispel the stereotype that they take a, um, "different view" on showering...
re: How did 10,000 people die in France from the heat?!Alpedhuez55
Aug 21, 2003 11:33 AM
My guess is they assigned deaths where the heat may have been a contributing factor to the toll, even though the heat was not the main cause. If someone had a heart attack outdoors, they would say it was the heat, but the same person could have had a weak heart and would have died if it were 60 out. THe hot weather may add some stress on the body, but is likely not the true cause of death.

The same happens in New England when it snows. If you have a fatal heart attack shovelling snow it is the snow that killed you, no the ticker. At least that is how they look at it in the news. Same holds true for fatal auto accidents in the snow.

Mike Y.
re: How did 10,000 people die in France from the heat?!Jon Billheimer
Aug 21, 2003 11:37 AM
Regardless of how cause of death is assigned no other southern European country is reporting anywhere near the numbers that France has. The $64,000 question is why France?
I think its reportingTJeanloz
Aug 21, 2003 11:44 AM
France has been hit disproportionately hard, but Italy is in there with 2,000 or so. Spain has not yet released its number, but it is speculated to be in the thousands. Germany will be in the several hundred.

How they are calculating it is basically an adjusted standard-deviation from the average number of summertime deaths, so they aren't just counting people up, there is realistic statistical science behind it.
re: How did 10,000 people die in France from the heat?!Tri_Rich
Aug 21, 2003 11:39 AM
Indeed, I was just discussing this with a geographer who said the number is arrived at by taking the total number of people who have died during the heat wave and supracting out the number who would die during that time in an "average year" (basically).
one big factor I heard of was this:dr hoo
Aug 21, 2003 11:48 AM
Many elderly in France live with their families. The families go on vacation in August, but many grandparents stay home. Elderly at home alone + extreme heat + no air conditioning = death.
Home alonefiltersweep
Aug 21, 2003 1:17 PM kidding, don't leave grandma home alone with the windows shut...
don't strap her to the top of the car either. nmrufus
Aug 21, 2003 3:36 PM
It's all how you define "From"MR_GRUMPY
Aug 21, 2003 1:18 PM
There was a big stink in Chicago a few years ago when they changed how they "assigned" deaths. In a major "heat wave", 500 old people died in a week. The crap really hit the fan on that one. It turned out that usually 400 old people kick off in a normal week. It used to be that old people died of "old age". Now everybody has to have a reason to die. If they didn't have AC, it must have been the heat.
Aug 21, 2003 1:28 PM
It's calculated as the deviation from the normal number of deaths for that week/month of the year.
Maybe controversial, but I think it's true...Matno
Aug 23, 2003 8:58 AM
France has been in undeniable moral decline for a long time. When the younger generation lacks morals (as they very much do in France), they stop caring about taking care of other people. Sad, but simple explanation. Purely speculation, but having spent some time in France, it sure makes sense to me. I'm sure there are other factors at play here as well, but since nobody seemed to have mentioned this one...