The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has unveiled the Heat and Health Index (HHI), a new tool designed to bolster community preparedness for extreme heat events. 

The tool, which aims to prevent heat-related illnesses, is claimed to be the first nationwide tool to offer heat-health outcome information at the ZIP code level. 

It will allow state and local officials to identify and support areas most susceptible to heat-related health issues, while ensuring availability of medical aid for vulnerable population. 

Introduction of HHI aligns with the US government’s ongoing efforts to provide communities with necessary resources to combat escalating effects of climate change. 

HHI integrates historical temperature data, Emergency Medical Services data on heat-related emergencies that happened in last three years, and information on community characteristics, including socio-demographic information and pre-existing health conditions. 

This collective set of data helps in generating a heat and health index ranking by ZIP code.  

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This ranking is a vital resource for strategic planning and informed decision-making by public health officials, city planners, and policymakers. 

By identifying areas at heightened risk, the HHI will enable officials to establish cooling centres, prepare healthcare providers for increased patient intake, and guide city planners in implementing heat mitigation strategies.  

HHI has been collaboratively developed by CDC’s National Center for Environmental Health (NCEH) Climate and Health Program, CDC/NCEH Environmental Public Health Tracking Program, and Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry’s Geospatial Research, Analysis, and Services Program. 

It also involves contribution from HHS Office of Climate Change and Health Equity and Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health. 

Accessible through the CDC National Environmental Public Health Tracking Program’s Heat and Health Tracker, the HHI will also be linked to the National Integrated Heat Health Information System’s online portal.  

It will be updated periodically to reflect the release of new data. 

HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said: “All across the country, communities are battling to keep people cool, safe and alive in face of dangerous, record-setting heat, made worse by climate crisis. Exposure to extreme temperatures can lead to serious illness and death, and risks for people who are pregnant and those with pre-existing conditions like asthma or diabetes, are even greater.”