BY INSI

TRAVEL ADVISORY: Working in the heat during the fasting month of Ramadan

Temperatures are soaring in many countries across the globe where it is the height of summer and journalists who are not used to working in the heat may need to take extra precautions to ensure their health and safety because of this.

In addition, with the Islamic month of Ramadan entering its third week, such hot conditions may prove difficult for journalists who are practising Muslims and those who are not but who are working in Muslim countries.

Journalists should be prepared for challenging conditions before they carry out their work: respect the holy month of Ramadan if it is observed where you are working, but remember look after your health. As such, INSI is reissuing the following safety advisory.

Working in the heat

Heat and humidity add up to danger

If you are working in a hot environment the temperature is likely to affect you. Know how your body will react to heat.

Heat does not only kill the elderly and the ill. It can also kill healthy young people, usually because they do not recognise the dangers of working or exercising in hot weather - especially hot, humid weather.

The combination of heat and humidity means that sweat evaporates more slowly and the body's natural cooling system does not work properly. In these conditions outdoor work becomes dangerous even for those people in good shape.

Key rules for coping with heat

• Drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration. Be aware that caffeine will dehydrate you

• The fitter you are, the easier it will be to cope with the heat

• Cover up with cotton clothing and wear a hat to protect your head and neck

• Ensure you wear sun block to protect your skin

• Wear light coloured clothing, as dark colours absorb the heat

• Work at a slower pace to acclimatise. Try to keep air conditioning to a minimum when you arrive, as it does not help you to acclimatise

• Do not work outside during the middle of the day, when it is the hottest

• Allow frequent periods of rest and hydration during activity. Fluid replacement is essential to prevent heat injury

• Slow down and cool off if you start feeling tired

• If you have a headache, a high pulse rate or shallow breathing, go inside and rest

• Diuretics and stimulants, including alcohol, may increase the risk of the effects of heat. Make sure you drink plenty of water

• Monitor the colour of your urine. If your urine is yellow, dark brown or smells you are dehydrated and should drink more water. The darker your urine, the less hydrated you are. Drink enough fluids to keep your urine a very light colour

• Make sure you are well hydrated before, during, and after exercise. Replenish your fluids, whether you feel thirsty or not. If you want to exercise then do so at the coolest time of the day wherever you are

• A general recommendation is to drink 3/4 litre of non-caffeinated fluid 2 hours before exercise. Drinking an additional small bottle (75ml) of water or sports drink right before exercise is also helpful. While you are exercising, break for a drink of water every 20 minutes

Overheating can cause serious, even life-threatening conditions such as heat stroke.

Heat cramps

Working or exercising in hot weather can lead to muscle cramps, especially in the legs, because of brief imbalances in body salts. Cramps become less frequent as a person becomes used to the heat.

What are heat cramps?

You may experience painful cramping of the larger muscle groups in your legs, arms and abdomen. This could be caused by excessive loss of salt through heavy sweating and/or several hours of sustained exertion.

How to avoid them

Acclimatise when you arrive in the country. Take it easy for the first day and build up to working outside. Try to avoid switching on the air conditioning all the time and drive with the windows open. This will help you to get used to the heat.

How to treat them

• Move the person to a shaded area

• Massage their arms/legs to increase circulation

• Give them 1/2 teaspoon salt in a litre of water, or a sports drink, or salted food plus fluid. Make them sip it or they may vomit

Anyone not used to working in the heat can experience a quick drop in blood pressure, which can lead to fainting. The cure is to take it easy.

Heat exhaustion (more serious)

What is it?

Your temperature may increase to 99 -104 ºF (37 - 40 ºC). You may experience heavy sweating and headaches, and feel light-headed, tingling sensations in your body and nauseous. You may even vomit.

Losing fluid and salt through perspiration or replacing them in an imbalanced way can lead to dizziness and weakness.

Heat exhaustion is more likely after a few days of working in the heat, rather than on the first day. The best defence is to take it easy and drink plenty of water. Don't take salt tablets without consulting a physician.

How to avoid it

Acclimatise when you arrive in the country. Take it easy for the first day and build up to working outside. You will get used to the heat if you try to to avoid switching on the air conditioning all the time and drive with the windows open.

How to treat it

• Get the person to a shaded environment and loosen clothing. If you suspect early heatstroke, then treat it as such and get the person to drink as much as they can. They should drink cold water if they can. If they are vomiting then get them to sip it in small amounts

• Give them 1/2 tsp salt in 1 litres water, or a sports drink, or salted food plus fluid

• Apply active cooling measures, such as a fan or ice towels, if they have a temperature

• Try to get them to eat a carbohydrate/electrolyte beverage of 1-2 litres over 2-4 hours

• Take them to a doctor to assess how to replace their fluids. They may need further medical attention, especially if nausea and vomiting are present

Heatstroke (the most serious, can be fatal)

What is it?

In some extreme cases the heat can upset the body’s thermostat, causing body temperatures to rise to 105 ºF (40 ºC) or higher. This is a very dangerous situation to be in.

The person will be lethargic, disorientated, aggressive, confused and may lapse into unconsciousness. Even a suspicion that someone might be suffering from heat stroke requires immediate medical aid.

How to avoid it

Acclimatise, acclimatise, acclimatise!

It takes around 5 days for most people’s bodies to adapt to heat exposure in a natural environment. It may take up to 14 days for 95% of the population to have complete acclimatisation.

But you can lose this acclimatisation just as quickly.

How to treat it

• Get them to a shaded area

• You must seek immediate medical assistance or take them to a doctor, clinic or hospital

• Monitor their body temperature and lower it as quickly as possible by immersing them in an ice bath, if possible, or cooling them with towels or ice wrapped in towels. Apply ice packs to the armpits, groin, and neck areas

• Remove as much clothing as possible

• Continue cooling efforts until you can get them to medical care

If in doubt, drink water before you feel thirsty!

Working during Ramadan

This year, fasting began on Tuesday 9 July and lasts until Wednesday 7 August. Some Muslim countries are stricter than others. While the following advice does not apply to all countries you may wish to err on the side of caution until otherwise advised.

Travel

When applying for visas, leave plenty of time for processing as embassies may close.

Expect delays in airports and be prepared to wait. Consider that it may well take longer for your luggage to arrive. You may wish to bring water and even a snack with you, but consider eating and drinking away from public places.

Rush hour times may vary from normal, and the roads may be busy at sunrise and sunset. Tempers can fray in traffic or whilst driving due to dehydration. Many road traffic incidents happen during Ramadan due to rushing to get home or the effects of not drinking enough water.

Working with people

Remember that shorter working hours are the norm and it is likely that some things will take longer than usual.

You may find it difficult to get appointments when you want them and people may be reluctant to give interviews.

Ministries close down and shopping hours and restaurant opening times may vary. Some restaurants may only be open in the evenings.

Eating and drinking

Practicing Muslims do not eat or drink from sunrise to sunset.

In some areas it is unacceptable for foreigners to drink in front of Muslims in public places during Ramadan. In some countries this is punishable by arrest.

Be careful about drinking whilst driving or sitting in the car as this can also be a punishable offence in some countries.

There is absolutely no drinking alcohol. You may be able to buy alcohol in hotels but be aware that drinking it in front of your hosts could be considered rude.

Many families go to pray after sunset and then eat around 10pm. This may well be when your news broadcasts go to air, so plan your day accordingly and work out when you are going to eat and drink.

Other

Do not smoke in public.

Avoid physical contact between members of the opposite sex.

Foreign women may decide to wear a headscarf as a sign of respect when visiting local interviewees.


Notes

In the heat of Middle East and African summers you are likely to become dehydrated if you are not careful. You should drink water but consider drinking it off the street, out of sight and in a closed environment.

Respect the religious festival of Ramadan but look after your health. Check the colour of your urine frequently and if yellow or brown and not clear you must drink more water.

Note: This safety advisory is based on sensible guidelines for working in hot weather during Ramadan. The views here are those of the author and are personal reflections and safety advice. They are meant to assist the international traveller in being prepared to work in these conditions and are not meant to be negative in nature. This is not proscriptive medical advice and if you are unsure you MUST seek assistance from a qualified medical practitioner. INSI holds no responsibility for any ensuing problems in relation to this advice.

Photo: A Palestinian woman buys traditional Ramadan decorations at a store in the West Bank city of Jenin, Monday, July 8, 2013. (AP Photo/Mohammed Ballas)