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July heat-related deaths, emergency visits may break Arizona records

Phoenix's  hottest month in history may have led to a record number of heat-related emergency visits and deaths.

If preliminary numbers from the county and state are confirmed, heat-related emergency room visits and deaths may have reached all-time record levels in Arizona during the week of July 16. Highs in Phoenix soared up to 119 degrees, and overnight temperatures were in the mid-90s.

Data from the Arizona Department of Health Services shows 712 people visited Arizona emergency departments for heat-related illnesses the week of the 16th, which appears to be an all-time record. It’s nearly twice the number of heat-related ED visits reported during last summer’s peak week.

Though, Niki Lajevardi-Khosh, program manager with the Department's environmental health office, told KJZZ News those numbers are based on statewide surveillance reports, which can vary among different hospitals.

“It’s possibly an overestimation," Lajevardi-Khosh said. "This source of data isn’t our gold standard for getting our most accurate case counts."

Still, Lajevardi-Khosh said, the unconfirmed hospital data suggests a notable spike in emergency visits in mid-July.

Maricopa County heat-related death data suggests a similar trend.

Maricopa County has so far confirmed 39 heat deaths this year, but another 312 possible heat-related deaths remain under investigation. About 140 of those occurred the week of the 16th. If the numbers are confirmed, that could make the week of July 16 the deadliest on record for the county for heat deaths. Prior to 2016, Maricopa County had never reported more than 140 heat deaths in an entire year. 

More stories about Phoenix's heat wave

Katherine Davis-Young is a senior field correspondent reporting on a variety of issues, including public health and climate change.