Heat stroke or COVID-19? Similar symptoms could be confusing at the Olympics

The logo of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, which have been postponed to 2021 due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, is visible through a traffic sign in the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office building in Tokyo , Japan, January 22, 2021. REUTERS FILE PHOTO

TOKYO – Emergency medicine experts warn that first responders at the Tokyo Olympics could easily confuse heatstroke and coronavirus patients because the illnesses have similar symptoms.

While the organizers of the Games have moved the marathon and walking events cooler northern town of SapporoMost events take place in Tokyo between July 23 and August 8, the city’s hot and humid summer peak.

“Medical resources in the hot summer are so limited, even in a normal summer without the Olympics,” said Shoji Yokobori, chair of the department of emergency medicine and intensive care at Nippon Medical School Hospital in Tokyo.

Shinji Nakahara, a public health expert at Kanagawa University of Social Services, said medical teams could mistake a COVID-19 patient for someone with heatstroke because both illnesses have temperature symptoms. high, dehydration and fatigue.

“It can create a messy situation in the medical posts at each site,” Nakahara said.

Tokyo’s emergency health system has already had a taste of the combination of heat stroke and COVID-19. The so-called difficult to transfer cases – where a patient transported by ambulance is refused by several hospitals – more than doubled last summer compared to the previous year.

Toshiro Muto, CEO of the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee, said officials were working on plans to deal with heatstroke, seen as a major health problem alongside COVID-19.

In a study on managing heatstroke during the pandemic, Yokobori found that about four people diagnosed with severe heatstroke among 1,000 cases then tested positive for COVID-19.

While the ratio was nominal, the result was a “shock,” Yokobori said, due to the risks of nosocomial infections.

To make the problem worse, wearing masks, a key preventive measure against the coronavirus, can raise body temperature in the heat of summer.

This endangers not only spectators, but emergency responders as well, Yokobori said, calling on organizers to exclude spectators from the Games.

Tokyo 2020 has already blocked overseas spectators but has yet to announce whether locals will be able to attend.

“When taking care of patients with heat stroke, we also need to protect ourselves with heavy protective equipment, because we cannot separate COVID-19 from heat stroke,” Yokobori said. “It makes us so stressed.”

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