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Leaving children in vehicles can be risky even in winter

Even on relatively cool days, a child left in a vehicle parked under the sun can die

Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: The hot summer days may be behind us, but leaving a child behind in a locked vehicle can prove fatal even now, medical experts have warned.

International studies show that temperatures within a locked vehicle parked under the sun can rise to 20 degrees Celsius higher than the external temperature within just 40 minutes. And even when it is as cool as 22 degrees Celsius outside, which is common during UAE winters, the risks persist.

“Such incidents are always tragic, so caregivers should always practise extra caution. Never leave a child behind in the car, even if you believe it is only for a few seconds,” warned Dr Hady Jerdak, general manager and specialist in internal medicine, pulmonary diseases and sleep disorders at the Harley Street Medical Centre in Abu Dhabi.

A similar occurrence led to the death of Nizaha Aalaa, a three-year-old from India who died last month after being left behind in a locked schoolbus for at least four hours.

“Initially, a child’s body overheats, leading to hyperthermia. This then develops into a fever, followed by lack of consciousness. The child is then likely to slip into a coma, and the heart and respiratory systems would fail first,” Dr Jerdak explained.

According to a study by researchers at San Franciso State University, just 15 minutes in an overheated car or bus is enough for a child to suffer life-threatening brain and kidney injuries. Internal organs begin to shut down when the internal temperature hits 40 degrees Celsius, and death occurs when the mercury reaches 41.6 degrees Celsius.

A study undertaken at the Stanford University School of Medicine also showed that temperatures inside a parked vehicle can quickly spike to life-threatening levels even on a relatively cool day. With the external temperature at just about 20 degrees Celsius, deaths have been recorded among children left behind in locked cars in the United States.

Dr Abdul Nasser Kamel, internal medicine and pulmonary diseases consultant at Al Noor Hospital in Abu Dhabi, said that children are affected quickly because their thermoregulatory systems that maintain body temperature are not fully developed yet.

A closed vehicle has no ventilation, so heat that hits dark objects such as the wheel and dashboard warms the internal air. This heat is not lost from a locked vehicle with the air conditioner turned off, he added.

Unfortunately, similar tragedies have also occurred in the past in Abu Dhabi, and are also reported in many other countries. In fact, 30 children have died this year alone in the United States, according to statistics published by San Jose State University.