Hundreds of lives are lost every year in the United States to heat-related deaths, a new report from the Centers for Disease Control says.

According to the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, which looked at CDC records between 1999-2003, the U.S. loses 688 people per year, on average, to heat deaths. During that time, a total of 3,442 people in the U.S. died due to exposure to extreme heat, the report states.

At least 681 of those people had underlying heart disease, the CDC notes.

Current headlines underscore extreme heat’s dangers. The heat wave that has gripped Western states in recent days has killed more than 80 Californians, according to news reports.

From 1979-1999, extreme heat killed 8,015 people in the U.S. That’s more than deaths during that period from hurricanes, lightning, tornadoes, floods, and earthquakes combined, states the CDC’s web site.

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13 Tips to Beat the Heat

The CDC offers these tips to help protect your health in extreme heat:

1. Stay indoors and, if at all possible, stay in an air-conditioned place.

2. Don’t leave babies, children, or pets in cars, not even for a short time. Heat can kill quickly.

3. Drink more fluids. If your doctor has limited your fluid intake or if you’re taking “water pills” (diuretics), check with your doctor first.

4. Don’t drink liquids containing alcohol or lots of sugar. Those drinks may make you lose more body fluid.

5. Avoid very cold drinks, which can cause stomach cramps.

6. If you sweat heavily, you may need to replace salt and minerals. A sports beverage may help, but if you’re on a low-salt diet, talk with your doctor before drinking sports drinks or taking salt tablets.

7. When you’re at home, wear as little clothing as possible. Choose lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing.

8. If you have to be outside, try to limit your outdoor activity to morning and evening hours, and try to rest in shady areas.

9. If you must go outside, wear sunscreen, a wide-brimmed hat, and eyeglasses.

10. Pace yourself. Stop all activity if your heart pounds or you gasp for breath in the heat.

11. Use a buddy system if you’re working in the heat. Look out for your co-workers and have someone do the same for you.

12. Check up on high-risk people, including kids, senior citizens, and people who are ill. Visit at-risk adults at least twice daily. Babies and kids need much more frequent checks.

13. Provide your pets with plenty of fresh water in a shady area.

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By Miranda Hitti, reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

SOURCES: CDC, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, July 28, 2006; vol 55: pp 796-798. Associated Press. CDC: “Extreme Heat: A Prevention Guide to Promote Your Personal Health and Safety.” News release, CDC.