Heatwaves and climate change


A heatwave is a period of unusual hot weather that can cause serious health effects. Heatwaves can make existing medical conditions worse and cause heat-related illness, which may be fatal. It can also affect community infrastructure such as the power supply, public transport and other services.

Climate change: our biggest health challenge

The World Health Organisation describes climate change as the greatest threat to public health in the 21st century.

  • For 24-hour health advice call NURSE-ON-CALL on 1300 60 60 24.
  • For life-threatening emergencies call 000.

Heatwaves - Who is most at risk?

Those most at risk during a heatwave are:

  • people aged over 65 years, especially those living alone,
  • people with medical conditions such as diabetes, kidney disease or mental illness
  • people taking certain medications
  • people with problematic alcohol or drug use
  • people with a disability who may not be able to communicate their discomfort or thirst
  • people who have trouble moving around
  • people who are overweight or obese
  • pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers, babies and young children
  • people who work or are physically active outdoors
  • people who live in the upper levels of buildings constructed before 1975.

Coping with the heat

  • Look after yourself and keep in touch with sick or frail friends, neighbours and relatives,
  • Drink plenty of water,
  • Keep yourself cool using wet towels, putting your feet in cool water and taking cool showers,
  • Spend as much time as possible in cool or air-conditioned buildings,
  • Close blinds during the day and open windows when there is a cool breeze,
  • Don’t leave children, adults or animals in parked cars,
  • Stay out of the sun during the hottest part of the day, if you must go out, stay in the shade and take water with you,
  • Wear loose fitting, light-coloured clothing,
  • Eat smaller meals more often and cold meals such as salads,
  • Make sure food that needs refrigeration is stored properly,
  • Avoid strenuous activity, and
  • Watch or listen to news reports that provide more information during a heatwave.

Preparing for hot weather

  • Service your air conditioner before summer,
  • Stock up on food, water and medicines so you don’t need to go out in the heat,
  • Store medicines at the recommended temperature,
  • Install awnings, shade cloth or external blinds on the sides of the house facing the sun, and
  • Know where your closest ‘cool places’ are.

Preparing for power failure

  • The risk of power outage is greater in extreme weather conditions. Make sure you have a plan in case of a blackout, 
  • Plan what you would do if a heatwave caused a blackout or disrupted public transport,
  • Ensure you have a torch, fully charged mobile phone and battery-operated radio,
  • Consider your need for back-up power and don’t rely on power as part of your bushfire preparedness plan, and
  •  Remember power outages can affect phones, radios and water pumps. 
The Victorian Government website has more useful information.


Climate change - our biggest health challenge

We are already experiencing the impacts of climate change:

  • A decrease in average rainfall
  • A temperature increase of just over 1oC since 1910
  • Increased fire danger in spring Increased severity and frequency of bushfires
  • More intense storm and flooding
  • Increase in severe droughts.

In the future Victoria can expect:

  • The average annual temperature to increase up to 2.4oC
  • Double the number of very hot days
  • Longer fire seasons with up to 60% more very high fire danger days
  • More intense downpours » Decline in alpine snowfall of 35 to 75%
  • Rising sea levels of around 24 cm.

Climate change and our health

  • More than 4000 people were hospitalised and 445 people died due to the smoke from the 2020 Black Summer bushfires.
  • Flooding has resulted in a tenfold increase in human reported cases of Ross River Virus since 1993.
  • Ambulance Victoria had a 700% rise in call outs for cardiac arrest during the 2014 heatwave.
  • Healthcare professional are already seeing climate-related physical and mental health conditions in their community such as heat stress and anxiety.
  • Exposure to bushfire smoke exacerbates heart and lung conditions including asthma and increases eye, nose and throat irritation.
  • Outdoor workers and manual labourers are at an increased risk of heat illness and heat stroke.
  • Bacteria like Salmonella thrive in the warmth, increasing our risk of food poisoning and gastrointestinal illnesses.
  • Warmer temperatures can lead to harmful algal blooms in water bodies, which threaten the safety of our drinking water and expose people to toxins.
  • Warmer temperatures can lengthen the pollen season.
  • Extreme weather can lead to psychological distress due to trauma, illness, loss of loved ones, destruction of property and displacement, and disruption of communities, goods and services.
  • Victorians feel frustration, sadness and outrage in relation to climate change. These negative emotions known as ‘eco-anxiety’ are felt more strongly by young people than any other population group.
  • The security and quality of our water resources are under threat which has flow on affects overall to our food production.

Victorians rank health as the issue most important to them:

  • 90% have not thought about how climate change may affect their health.
  • 1 in 3 Victorians are not aware that health risks are likely to increase with climate change. 


View Climate Change - our biggest health challenge(PDF, 163KB) for more information.

More information