Background: In July 2006, a lasting and severe heat wave occurred in Western Europe. Since the 2003 heat wave, several preventive measures and an alert system aiming at reducing the risks related to high temperatures have been set up in France by the health authorities and institutions. In order to evaluate the effectiveness of those measures, the observed excess mortality during the 2006 heat wave was compared to the expected excess mortality.
Methods: A Poisson regression model relating the daily fluctuations in summer temperature and mortality in France from 1975 to 2003 was used to estimate the daily expected number of deaths over the period 2004-2006 as a function of the observed temperatures.
Results: During the 2006 heat wave (from 11 to 28 July), about 2065 excess deaths occurred in France. Considering the observed temperatures and with the hypothesis that heat-related mortality had not changed since 2003, 6452 excess deaths were predicted for the period. The observed mortality during the 2006 heat wave was thus markedly less than the expected mortality (approximately 4400 less deaths).
Conclusions: The excess mortality during the 2006 heat wave, which was markedly lower than that predicted by the model, may be interpreted as a decrease in the population's vulnerability to heat, together with, since 2003, increased awareness of the risk related to extreme temperatures, preventive measures and the set-up of the warning system.