People across Canada now have access to a free online program at extremeheat.ca to better prepare and prevent heat-related illness. This program comes at a critical time as extreme heat events, more commonly known as heat waves, have affected health and resulted in a significant number of preventable deaths in recent years.

The extremeheat.ca website provides links to a public education website, as well as a health care provider program. The website for the public is available in both English and French, and consists of key resources for parents, older adults and physically active adults - groups of people at more risk of problems during a heat wave. The extreme heat online program is the result of a collaborative effort among the Division of e-Learning Innovation at McMaster University, Health Canada, the Ontario College of Family Physicians, and the Clean Air Partnership.

“This program provides important information to help people stay safe in the extreme heat,” said Anthony J. Levinson, M.D., Associate Professor at McMaster University, and Director of the machealthpublic.ca health education website that hosts the Extreme Heat program. “While extreme heat can put everyone at risk from heat illnesses, health risks are greatest for older adults, infants and young children, and people with chronic illnesses. We have some great resources on the website to help educate the public.”

The program for health care providers is the first of its kind designed specifically for doctors and other health care workers in Canada to learn about extreme heat events and heat-related illnesses - topics that are rarely covered during training. Offering online access, the program reaches health care providers in a way that would not be possible with in-person continuing education programs. The program is based on Health Canada’s Extreme Heat Events Guidelines: Technical Guide for Health Care Workers, and includes other key resources for health care providers and the general public as well.

“Climate change has been called the defining issue for public health in the 21st century, and family physicians and other health care providers are key to helping to address the health effects of climate change,” said Jan Kasperski, CEO of the Ontario College of Family Physicians.

Experts believe that climate change will significantly impact the number, length and effect of extreme heat events, resulting in more health problems related to the heat, including the possibility of more deaths in Canada. For example, in Toronto, Windsor, London and Winnipeg, the number of days with a maximum temperature of 30°C is projected to double by 2021-2040 and more than triple by 2081-2100, likely resulting in more heat-related deaths.

“Heat illnesses are preventable,” said Jim Frehs, Manager, Climate Change and Health at Health Canada. “This program is a great way to raise awareness regarding heat as a health risk, for the public to learn more about the signs and symptoms of heat-related illness and how they can protect themselves.”

"Canada's population is aging," said Kevin Behan, Director of Research at Clean Air Partnership. "Considered with climate change, this will result in more people at risk of heat-related illness, and highlights the need for more education. Taking action now to provide the Canadian people with the education they need to protect themselves is a vital step in adapting to this pertinent issue."