Heat kills more Australians than any other natural disaster. Previous Australian research has identified increases in Emergency Department presentations in capital cities; however, little research has examined the effects of heat in rural/regional locations. This retrospective cohort study aimed to determine if Emergency Department (ED) presentations across the south-west region of Victoria, Australia, increased on high-heat days (1 February 2017 to 31 January 2020) using the Rural Acute Hospital Data Register (RAHDaR). The study also explored differences in presentations between farming towns and non-farming towns. High-heat days were defined as days over the 95th temperature percentile. International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, Tenth Revision, Australian Modification (ICD-10-AM) codes associated with heat-related illness were identified from previous studies. As the region has a large agricultural sector, a framework was developed to identify towns estimated to have 70% or more of the population involved in farming. Overall, there were 61,631 presentations from individuals residing in the nine Local Government Areas. Of these presentations, 3064 (5.0%) were on days of high-heat, and 58,567 (95.0%) were of days of non-high-heat. Unlike previous metropolitan studies, ED presentations in rural south-west Victoria decrease on high-heat days. This decrease was more prominent in the farming cohort; a potential explanation for this may be behavioural adaption.
Keywords: occupational health; farmers; extreme heat; heat-related illness; high-heat climate change; injury; heat exposure