Missouri is under a heat advisory through Wednesday with temperatures in the mid to upper 90s. Combined with the humidity, that brings the heat index to 105 or 110 degrees.

Lori Harris-Franklin, an epidemiologist with the Department of Health and Senior Services says anyone can fall victim to heat exhaustion or heat stroke, but especially children, the elderly and those who are ill, mostly because they can be on medications that are dehydrating or can impair the body’s ability to sweat and cool down.

Some of those medications include antihistamines, heart drugs, over-the-counter sleeping pills, antidepressants, antipsychotics, tranquilizers and some prescriptions medications for Parkinson’s disease. People should check with their doctor or pharmacist to find out if their medications make them more sensitive to heat, the department says.

Harris-Franklin says signs of heat exhaustion include heavy sweating, muscle cramps, dizziness or fainting, headaches and nausea. Even more severe is heat stroke, in which victims are  not sweating, have an extremely high body temperature, skin that is red, dry and hot to the touch, a rapid pulse, dizziness, nausea, confusion and sometimes fall unconscious.

Ten Missourians died last year from heat-related causes; three of them were 65 or older. Seven were 25 to 64 years of age.

Incidentally, the department kicked off its Summer Weather Safety Week today.

Seniors and others on fixed incomes sometimes do not have air conditioning or cannot afford the expense of running it. For that reason, Harris-Franklin says a buddy system is recommended: Check on elderly family members and neighbors regularly to be sure they are not suffering from the effects of the heat. It’s also a good idea to use the buddy system when exercising or working outdoors in extreme heat, she says.

To report seniors or those with disabilities suffering from heat and needing assitance, call the state’s abuse and neglect hotline at (800) 392-0210. 

Children need to drink plenty of fluids during hot weather and should never be left unattended in hot environments, especially cars, even when the windows are down or if the car’s running with the air conditioner on.

Windshields can still intensify the inside temperature to dangerous levels, Harris-Franklin says. A car’s interior takes only a few minutes to reach oven-like temperatures, putting anyone left inside at risk of overheating.

Keep an eye on children playing in or around cars, the department says, since small children can get trapped inside because they are not big enough to open the door or roll down a window to escape. Older children are at risk if they fall asleep in a hot vehicle or play or hide in the trunk of a car.

What to do if suffering from heat exhaustion:

– Rest in a cool, preferably air-conditioned, area.

– Loosen clothing.

– Cool down with a shower, bath or sponge bath

– Drink plenty of non-alcoholic and caffeine-free beverages.

– Seek medical attention if symptoms worsen or last longer than one hour.

What to do in the event of heat stroke, which can be life threatening:

– Call for immediate medical assistance.

– Move the victim to a cool or shady area.

– Cool the victim rapidly using whatever methods possible, such as immersing the victim in a tub of cool water; placing them in a cool shower; spraying with cool water from a garden hose or sponging their skin with cool water.

- Monitor body temperature, and continue cooling efforts until the body temperature drops to less than 102 degrees.

– Do not give the victim alcohol to drink.

Tips to prevent heat-related illness:

– Be aware of the warning signs of heat-related illness, such as light-headedness, mild nausea or confusion, sleepiness or profuse sweating.

– While outdoors, rest frequently in a shady area so that your body’s thermostat has a chance to recover.

– Schedule outdoor activities carefully, preferably before noon or in the evening,

– If unaccustomed to working or exercising in a hot environment, start slowly, pick up the pace gradually and limit your exercise or work time.

– Wear sunscreen to protect skin from the sun’s harmful rays. Sunburn affects your body’s ability to cool itself and causes a loss of body fluids.

– Wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing.

– When working in the heat, monitor the condition of your co-workers and have someone do the same for you. If you are 65 years of age or older, have a friend or relative call to check on you twice a day when hot weather health advisories have been issued.

– Stay indoors and in an air-conditioned environment. If air conditioning is not available, consider a visit to a shopping mall, public library, movie theater, supermarket or other air-conditioned location for a few hours.

– Increase your fluid intake regardless of your activity level. Don’t wait until you feel thirsty to drink fluids. Ensure infants and children drink adequate amounts of liquids.

– Avoid drinks containing caffeine, alcohol, or large amounts of sugar because they will actually cause you to lose more fluid. Also, avoid very cold beverages because they can cause stomach cramps.

– Electric fans may be useful to increase comfort and to draw cool air into your home at night, but do not rely on a fan as your primary cooling device during a heat wave. When the temperature is in the upper 90s or higher, a fan will not prevent heat-related illness. A cool shower or bath is a more effective way to cool off.

– Check regularly on those at greatest risk of heat-related illness: infants and children up to 4 years of age, people 65 years of age or older, people who are overweight, people who overexert during work or exercise and people who are ill or on certain medications.

– Avoid hot foods and heavy meals.

– Ask your doctor whether medications you take affect your body’s response to the heat.

– Do not leave infants, children or pets unattended in a parked car or other hot environment.

As temperatures and humidity levels are forecasted to be high all week, AmerenUE’s energy experts are offering a number of tips for cost-effectively keeping cool this week and all summer long.

The biggest cause of higher energy prices in the summer is electricity used to power air conditioning. For customers who expect to have problems paying bills as temperatures rise, AmerenUE’s Budget Billing will "average out" a customer’s monthly bills to minimize the effect of higher prices or higher seasonal usage. Visit   www.ameren.com for more.

UE’s Web site also features a recently updated version of the Energy Savings Toolkit-UE customers’ online resource for detailed information about making the most of household cooling systems.

To cool your house efficiently, Ameren says your air conditioner needs to be cool itself. Keep it in the shade. If your air conditioner is already in the sun, you can use a trellis with a vine on it to provide summer shade — just don’t place the trellis so near the unit that it blocks the air flow.

Don’t use vents to close off rooms. Doing so can decrease efficiency.

When your home is warm, setting the thermostat really low won’t help it cool down any faster. When the air conditioning is on, it runs at the same "speed" regardless of the temperature setting.

Set the thermostat as high as possible. The recommended energy efficient summer temperature is 78 degrees.

Visit the Web site for more energy efficiency tips during hot weather. 

Lori Harris-Franklin talks about heat-related illnesses