Europe’s hottest summer causes over 61,000 deaths

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The summer of 2022 has been declared Europe’s hottest ever, leading to heat-attributable deaths on an unprecedented scale.

As a result of record-breaking heatwaves, droughts, and forest fires, an estimated 61,672 people lost their lives, as per a study conducted by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) and the French National Institute of Health (Inserm).

Record-Breaking Temperatures

The researchers collected temperature and mortality data from 2015 to 2022 for 823 regions in 35 European countries, accounting for more than 543 million people.

This data was used to create epidemiological models and predict temperature-attributable mortality for each region and week of the summer.

The summer of 2022 saw persistently high temperatures. Records indicate that every week of the summer period was warmer than average.

The most substantial temperature anomalies were recorded from mid-July to mid-August, which consequently resulted in a surge in heat-related deaths.

In this period, 38,881 deaths occurred, with 11,637 attributed to an intense pan-European heatwave from July 18 to 24.

Countries Affected the Most

The country with the highest number of heat-attributable deaths in the summer of 2022 was Italy, with a total of 18,010 deaths, followed by Spain (11,324) and Germany (8,173).

When looking at the heat-related mortality rate, Italy once again topped the list with 295 deaths per million, followed by Greece (280), Spain (237), and Portugal (211). The European average was estimated at 114 deaths per million.

Age and Gender Differences

Heat-attributable mortality was most evident among older populations and women. Of the total estimated deaths, 36,848 were among those over 79, 9,226 among those aged 65 to 79, and 4,822 among those under 65.

Heat-attributable mortality was 63% higher in women than in men, with a total of 35,406 premature deaths (145 deaths per million), compared to an estimated 21,667 deaths in men (93 deaths per million).

Lessons from Past Heatwaves

The 2003 summer heatwave saw over 70,000 excess deaths and shed light on the lack of preventive plans and the fragility of health systems to manage climate-related emergencies.

The temperatures in the summer of 2022, although predicted based on the temperature series of previous years, reveal that warming has accelerated over the last decade.

The death toll, despite the presence of active prevention plans, suggests that current adaptation strategies may still be insufficient.

As Europe is experiencing warming up to 1°C more than the global average, researchers estimate that without an effective response, the continent could face an average of over 68,000 premature deaths each summer by 2030 and more than 94,000 by 2040.

The study highlights the urgent need to reassess and significantly strengthen prevention plans, with particular attention to differences between European countries and regions, as well as age and gender disparities.

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The study was published in Nature Medicine.

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