Background: There is no global definition of a heatwave because local acclimatisation and adaptation influence the impact of extreme heat. Even at a local level there can be multiple heatwave definitions, based on varying temperature levels or time periods. We investigated the relationship between heatwaves and health outcomes using ten different heatwave definitions in Brisbane, Australia.
Methodology/principal findings: We used daily data on climate, air pollution, and emergency hospital admissions in Brisbane between January 1996 and December 2005; and mortality between January 1996 and November 2004. Case-crossover analyses were used to assess the relationship between each of the ten heatwave definitions and health outcomes. During heatwaves there was a statistically significant increase in emergency hospital admissions for all ten definitions, with odds ratios ranging from 1.03 to 1.18. A statistically significant increase in the odds ratios of mortality was also found for eight definitions. The size of the heat-related impact varied between definitions.
Conclusions/significance: Even a small change in the heatwave definition had an appreciable effect on the estimated health impact. It is important to identify an appropriate definition of heatwave locally and to understand its health effects in order to develop appropriate public health intervention strategies to prevent and mitigate the impact of heatwaves.