The number of deaths rose by 3.5% during the period, more than would be expected for the time of year, leading to the calculation of “extra” deaths. During the week in question a record temperature of 40.7 degrees was registered at Beitem in East Flanders, and the Royal Meteorological Institute issued a code red warning for extreme weather.
Peak temperatures were recorded on 24, 25 and 29 June, with accompanying high ozone levels.
However despite record temperatures, the number of additional deaths was limited, with a peak of 12 on 26 June.
“We have seen summers where there were more extra deaths because of the heat,” Sciensano researcher Nathalie Bossuyt told Bruzz. “But it is difficult to compare one heatwave with another, because the circumstances are always different. The number of extra deaths depends on a number of factors, including air pollution, and the length of and build-up to the heatwave itself.”
Statistically, however, the number of extra deaths in June – 3.5% higher than the predicted 2,885 deaths normally to be expected – is considerably lower than the figures for the summers of 2003, 2006 and 2010, where the extra mortality reached 10%. Two factors play a role: the government’s heatwave and ozone peak plan is now more extensive; and people in general have learned the lessons of previous heatwaves and now act accordingly in matters such as personal hydration – drinking enough water – avoiding unnecessary exertion, especially for members of risk groups, and making sure vulnerable people like the elderly are looked after.
In the event of the 102 extra deaths that did occur, the age group 65 to 84 years was the most affected. As Sciensano explains it, one unexpected cause of a higher level of deaths in that group could be the fact that the flu epidemic of the winter was less fatal than expected, meaning that many vulnerable old people survived the winter, only to be taken down by the first heatwave of summer.
The analysis of the effects of the heatwave which took place in July is expected to be released later.