Number of deaths attributed to heat in Spain triples

by Lorraine Williamson
heat deaths

MADRID – In the summer of 2021, 1,447 people died in Spain from causes due to too high a temperature. However, for the current summer, it is calculated that 4,600 people have succumbed to the effects of heat. 

The number of deaths attributed to heat in Spain is thus three times the average of the past five years. Furthermore, Spain is currently on track to experience its warmest summer on record. Also one of the driest, where temperatures have been above normal since May. 

See also: Five times higher mortality in July than expected for that month 

These climatic factors have also meant the country experienced the largest wave of wildfires of this century to date. 2022 also stands out as the year with the most deaths from heat, at least since 2015. 

MoMo: 4,600 deaths this summer 

The daily all-cause monitoring system (MoMo), set up by the Carlos III Health Institute (ISCIII) in Madrid, estimates that there were just over 4,600 deaths from overheating in Spain between the end of April and the end of August. This represents about 3.2% of the deaths observed from any cause. Moreover, it is also a tripling of the average of the past five years. 

See also: Abnormally high water temperatures in the Mediterranean Sea 

The MoMo calculates the number of deaths from heat as the difference between the estimated deaths without periods of overtemperature and the same value when thermometers rise above normal. It does this based on real data from death certificates from the registry office, the State Meteorological Agency (AEMET) and the National Institute of Statistics (INE). 

For a death to be officially considered “heat stroke,” it must be listed as such on the death certificate. However, these data are not immediately available.  And, furthermore, coding can take up to three months. Therefore, the impact of heat on mortality is measured in real-time using attributable mortality. It is then estimated through epidemiological models and analyses. 

Through MoMo insight to act better and on time 

Oscar Zurriaga, professor of preventive medicine and public health at the University of Valencia, points out to RTVE.es that high temperatures can cause many inconveniences in everyday life. However, it can also be the cause of a deterioration in the health of a person or even cause death. Through systems like the MoMo “we can get an idea of ​​that impact to act promptly,” he continues. 

May, June and July are warmer than 60% of Spanish summers 

It’s getting hotter and hotter in Spain. This is apparent from an article that was published on the website of the Spanish KNMI, aemet.es, in mid-August. In it, the technicians José Ángel Núñez and Rubén del Campo point out that the quarter of May, June and July was warmer than 60% of Spanish summers. 

During this time, the MoMo recorded some 3,100 deaths from heat. That is five times more than the same period in 2021 and 1,050 more than 2015. That was the year with the highest count at this time of the summer. 

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“More than a direct alarm, the MoMo allows us to indirectly monitor how many deaths there are, as well as their impact on certain pathologies,” explains Zurriaga. 

69 heat deaths per day on hot days 

In addition, the effect of too high a temperature on mortality is mainly observed during the three heatwaves of recent months. It is estimated that in 25 days of overheating, just over a third of all deaths are due to this phenomenon. Furthermore, this equates to 69 deaths on each of those days. 

During the first early heatwave, between June 11 and 18, MoMo estimated that 373 people were killed as a result of excessive temperatures. In the second, which is notable for its intensity, geographic distribution and duration, the number rises to 845 deaths. This is five times the number of heat-related deaths recorded during a slightly shorter heatwave on the same dates in 2021. 

The statistic reveals a net increase of 575 deaths from overtemperature during the period of high heat recorded between July 30 and August 6. 

The excess mortality due to heat in the first two weeks of August coincides with a period that AEMET qualifies as the second warmest in the multi-year series. This is surpassed only by the temperatures recorded from August 1 to 15, 2003. 

According to the annual MoMo overview of heat deaths in the summer of 2021 in Spain 1,447 people died from causes that were due to too high a temperature. More than half of these deaths occurred in the month of August. 

Deaths Attributable To Heat By Province 

The deaths of three Madrid men from heat stroke made headlines in mid-July and fueled political rallies. However, these deaths represent only a small percentage of the deaths attributable to heat in Madrid. 

Madrid is the province of Spain that has recorded the most deaths from the heat in absolute terms this summer. Furthermore, provinces without coastline are the ones where the most deaths from heat have been recorded.  

Palencia, Huesca and Cuenca are the ones that have suffered the most concerning their population figures. All three killed more than 40 per 100,000 inhabitants, followed at some distance by Ávila, with 32 dead. 

In more populated areas such as Madrid and Barcelona, ​​about 19 and 7 deaths respectively due to heat.

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