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The Impacts of Heat and Cold Leading to Hospitalizations in Korea

Paper Reviewed
Son, J.-Y, Bell, M.L. and Lee, J.-T. 2014. The impact of heat, cold, and heat waves on hospital admissions in eight cities in Korea. International Journal of Biometeorology 58: 1893-1903.

Introducing their work, Son et al. (2014) write that "although many studies have addressed the impact of temperature on mortality, relatively fewer studies have evaluated the effects of temperature on morbidity outcome, such as hospital admissions," which knowledge, they say, " is needed to understand the full scope of weather's impacts on health." And in light of the dearth of such knowledge, they describe what they learned about this phenomenon in eight cities in Korea.

Working with hospital admissions data from eight major Korean cities (Seoul, Busan, Incheon, Daegu, Daejeon, Gwangju, Ulsan and Jeju) -- covering the period between 1 January 2003 and 31 December 2008, which data they obtained from the National Health Insurance Corporation of the Republic of Korea -- the three researchers made a number of interesting discoveries. First of all, they found that the association of heat with hospital admissions was the highest on the same day or days of the heat (lag 0 days), while the cold-related risk of hospitalizations lasted for longer time periods (lag 0-32 days). And not surprisingly, therefore, they concluded that "cold effects generally appear higher than heat effects in most cities," further citing the confirmatory results of the studies of Braga et al. (2001), Hajat and Haines (2002), Schwartz et al. (2004), Anderson and Bell (2009), Green et al. (2010), and Son et al. (2011).

Last of all, they report that the overall heat effect for cardiovascular hospitalization was but a modest 4.5% increase in risk when comparing hospitalizations at 25°C to 15°C, while they say they did not find any "statistically significant effects of heat waves compared with non-heatwave days." In other words, although the cardiovascular hospitalization rate slightly increased as the temperature rose in general, temperature extremes from heat waves had no discernible impact. On the other hand, with respect to the effect of cold weather, they authors report there were very significant increases in hospitalizations when comparing the admissions at 2°C with those at 15°C, which increases amounted to 50.5%, 43.6 % and 53.6% for allergic diseases, asthma, and selected respiratory diseases, respectively.

Clearly, a little global warming could do a lot to reduce health-related hospitalizations of metropolitan living Koreans.

Anderson, B.G. and Bell, M.L. 2009. Weather-related mortality: how heat, cold, and heat waves affect mortality in the United States. Epidemiology 20: 205-213.

Braga, A.L., Zanobetti, A. and Schwartz, J. 2001. The time course of weather-related deaths. Epidemiology 13: 662-667.

Green, R.S., Basu, R., Malig, B., Broadwin, R., Kim, J.J. and Ostro, B. 2010. The effect of temperature on hospital admissions in nine California counties. International Journal of Public Health 55: 113-121.

Hajat, S. and Haines, A. 2002. Associations of cold temperatures with GP consultations for respiratory and cardiovascular disease among the elderly in London. International Journal of Epidemiology 31: 826-830.

Schwartz, J., Samet, J.M. and Patz, J.A. 2004. Hospital admissions for heart disease: the effects of temperature and humidity. Epidemiology 15: 755-761.

Son, J.Y., Lee, J.T., Anderson, G.B. and Bell, M.L. 2011. Vulnerability to temperature-related mortality in Seoul, Korea. Environmental Research Letters 6: 10.1088/1748-9326/6/2/024006.

Posted 18 February 2015