Background: During a record-setting heat wave in Chicago in July 1995, there were at least 700 excess deaths, most of which were classified as heat-related. We sought to determine who was at greatest risk for heat-related death.
Methods: We conducted a case-control study in Chicago to identify risk factors associated with heat-related death and death from cardiovascular causes from July 14 through July 17, 1995. Beginning on July 21, we interviewed 339 relatives, neighbors, or friends of those who died and 339 controls matched to the case subjects according to neighborhood and age.
Results: The risk of heat-related death was increased for people with known medical problems who were confined to bed (odds ratio as compared with those who were not confined to bed, 5.5) or who were unable to care for themselves (odds ratio, 4.1). Also at increased risk were those who did not leave home each day (odds ratio, 6.7), who lived alone (odds ratio, 2.3), or who lived on the top floor of a building (odds ratio, 4.7). Having social contacts such as group activities or friends in the area was protective. In a multivariate analysis, the strongest risk factors for heat-related death were being confined to bed (odds ratio, 8.2) and living alone (odds ratio, 2.3); the risk of death was reduced for people with working air conditioners (odds ratio, 0.3) and those with access to transportation (odds ratio, 0.3). Deaths classified as due to cardiovascular causes had risk factors similar to those for heat-related death.
Conclusions: In this study of the 1995 Chicago heat wave, those at greatest risk of dying from the heat were people with medical illnesses who were socially isolated and did not have access to air conditioning. In future heat emergencies, interventions directed to such persons should reduce deaths related to the heat.