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Emergency room visits for heat-related illness spike in Multnomah County during heat wave

The county saw at least 43 emergency and urgent care visits this weekend related to the heat, according to the Multnomah County Health Department.
Credit: AP
Paramedics Cody Miller, left, and Justin Jones respond to a heat exposure call during a heat wave, Saturday, June 26, 2021, in Salem, Ore. (AP Photo/Nathan Howard)

PORTLAND, Ore. — This weekend Multnomah County reported nearly half of the heat-related illness visits to the emergency room it's typically used to seeing during an entire summer as the Pacific Northwest deals with a heatwave that has already broken all-time records for Portland. 

The county saw at least 43 emergency and urgent care visits from Friday to Sunday, according to Multnomah County Health. Normally it would expect to see one to two heat-related visits during that same time period on a typical summer day. 

The county said the calls and visits ranged in ages from newborn babies to people as old as 90-years-old and those with illnesses to otherwise healthy. 

Multnomah County's Emergency Medical Services, which receives 911 calls, reported over 400 calls on Saturday that led to 260 people taken to the hospital. The county said it's not clear how many of those calls were heat-related, but described the high volume as "unheard of." 

Portland reached 108 degrees Saturday evening, setting a new all-time record high. On Sunday, Portland obliterated that record by pushing to 112 degrees. Monday is forecasted to be another hot day with a possible high of 113 by the afternoon. 

RELATED: Portland hits 112 degrees, setting new all-time high record

Counties around the area have opened cooling centers to help people escape the hot temperatures. 

Multnomah County reports about 370 people were at three cooling centers around the city on Sunday morning. The county expanded capacity limits to fit an additional 150-300 people at the main shelter at the Oregon Convention Center after the Oregon Health Authority suspended COVID-19 capacity limits on swimming pools, movie theaters, shopping malls and other locations to allow more people to stay cool. 

The cooling centers are housed in buildings with air conditioning and are open to anyone. Many cooling centers offer water and food. Find a full list here. 

RELATED: Places to escape the heat this weekend

Nearly 50 outreach teams have also been working since Friday to reach homeless people with water, electrolytes and information, the county said. The last survey count, conducted in 2019, showed 2,037 people living unsheltered on the streets of Multnomah County. 

RELATED: Record heat wave could prove to be dangerous for Portland's homeless

Mild heat sickness can present itself with muscle cramps or strains while people are out and about, according to Dr. Anne Toledo, chief of urgent care for Kaiser Permanente in Portland. 

Heat exhaustion is more serious. Symptoms include irritability, lightheadedness, headache, goosebumps or a rash and fainting.

Heatstroke is the most serious. In vulnerable groups, such as older adults and small children, heatstroke can develop slowly over several days in the heat, without enough hydration. However, heatstroke can also develop in a matter of hours in younger people, who are active outside without sufficient hydration.

RELATED: PNW medical responders save lives in heatwave