DEATH rates among the elderly and vulnerable rise alarmingly during heatwaves, sparking a warning from health chiefs as the hot weather continues.
It comes as Met Eireann issued a Yellow weather warning for the coming days, with temperatures soaring as high as 30 degrees in many areas.
The most recent study on heatwaves and deaths in Ireland was carried out by academics at DIT in 2008. They found there were 294 extra deaths during seven heatwaves over the past three decades.
Dr Kevin Kelleher, HSE Assistant National Director for Health Protection, said international research has also shown that death rates among those aged over 75 can increase by as much as 60pc during periods of extreme heat – generally above 30 degrees.
"The clear example was 10 years ago, in Paris. They had a very big heatwave and there were a lot of deaths," he said.
"They have also noticed a rise in deaths in London, so the important thing is for people to look out for each other."
Ireland has rarely had to contend with a prolonged heatwave of over 30 degrees centigrade.
A heatwave here is considered to be at least five days in a row when temperatures exceed 25 degrees.
The country has now been gripped by warm weather for a fortnight, with forecasters predicting further highs over the weekend.
Dr Kelleher repeated his warning, first made at the start of the heatwave earlier this month, that the extreme heat can pose immediate risks to the elderly and the very young, who are not able to cope as well as the rest of the population.
"We do need to be very careful. Make sure you have enough to drink, stay in the shade, keep the house cool and keep curtains closed when the sun is out," he advised.
Meanwhile, the Dublin Fire Brigade (DFB) warned the public to be extra vigilant during the hot, dry weather, as crews contained a massive blaze on Howth Head.
Firefighters used buggies from Howth golf club to transport equipment on the hill, where the fire burned about two kilometres square at the top of the headland.
"It's arduous work here for firefighters moving up and down the hill," said John Keogh, operations officer with DFB.
The cause of the fire, which broke out around 3pm on Wednesday, is not yet known.
Mr Keogh said it could have been started by youngsters messing around and a small fire getting out of control, or by a discarded cigarette, a barbecue or a glass bottle lying under strong sun rays.
"We don't know what started it. It could be malicious or an accident," Mr Keogh said.
"Every summer we are up in Howth or the Dublin mountains dealing with something like this.
"Every three or four years we get a big fire because the grass and gorse has grown very tall and dry – it's just like kindling."
Chief Fire Officer Pat Fleming warned the public not to light fires in or near woodland, only to use designated barbecue points and not to try and extinguish fires but to call the emergency services instead.
People should also dispose of all their litter carefully, particularly cigarette butts and glass.
"This is dangerous due to risk of uneven ground, deep waters, hidden obstacles, changing water levels and fast-flowing waters," it said in a statement.
"These waters include the reservoirs at Poulaphoca in Wicklow, Inniscarra and Carrigadrohid in Cork, the Ardnacrusha headrace and tailrace canals in Co Clare and Assaroe in Co Donegal."