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The heat wave sweeping the United States has caused at least 28 deaths, according to reports

A scorching heat wave that has swept across much of the United States in recent days is suspected of killing at least 28 people in the past week, according to reports from state officials, medical examiners and media outlets.

The toll, which is based on preliminary reports from California, Oregon and Arizona, is likely to rise as authorities assess the death toll from a heat wave that began last week and brought record temperatures across the West and pummeled cities on the East Coast. As of Wednesday, more than 135 million people in the lower 48 states were under heat advisories, many of which are expected to continue into the weekend.

Most of the deaths have been in California, where heat broke daily records late last week in a handful of major cities, including San Jose, Fresno and Oakland. In Santa Clara County, which includes San Jose, Chief Medical Examiner Michelle Jorden said her office is investigating 14 cases in which people appear to have died of heat-related causes.

Of those, Jorden said eight of the people who died were over the age of 65 and most were found in their homes. Two of the cases involved homeless people and one person was living in transitional housing.

“What I do want to emphasize is that these cases are still under investigation,” Jorden said, adding that it will likely take days or weeks to complete a definitive death count. Right now, the death toll is not alarmingly high for the region, she said, “but we are obviously going to experience another heat wave that will last for the next three days.”

On Saturday, a motorcyclist died from heat exposure at Death Valley National Park, where temperatures soared to 128 degrees. Also that day, a woman incarcerated at the Central California Women’s Facility died when temperatures in the central valley, where the prison is located, reached 110 degrees. Although local authorities doubt whether the woman’s death was due to the heat wave, her daughter told the Sacramento Bee that she had complained about the extreme heat inside the prison for years. On Sunday, a 58-year-old Sacramento man died of heat stroke after he was taken to a hospital from his home without air conditioning.

Oregon appears to have suffered a spate of heat-related deaths as the state was subjected to triple-digit temperatures for days.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the Oregon State Medical Examiner’s Office had released information on 10 victims suspected of having died from heat-related causes. Six people had died in the Portland, Oregon, area; the other four deaths occurred in Washington, Coos, Klamath and Jackson counties. Half of the victims were elderly, but others were young. They included two 33-year-olds and a 27-year-old man, all of whom were men. The office did not provide details about the circumstances of their deaths or the dates they occurred.

In Arizona, NPR affiliate station KJZZ reported that a 4-month-old girl died on July 5 after falling unconscious while boating with her family on Lake Havasu. A spokesperson for the Mohave County Sheriff’s Department told the station that the child had suffered from heat-related illness.

Since July began, hundreds of heat records have been broken across the United States, many of them in the West. Temperatures have been so high that some rescue helicopters have been unable to fly, as the air has become too thin for the helicopter blades to grip.

Heat waves have not spared the East Coast. Raleigh, North Carolina, hit a record high of 106 degrees on Friday. In Maryland, the state health department reported two heat-related deaths during the week of June 30 to July 6.

The total number of deaths caused by the heatwave may remain uncertain for a long time. And public health experts have warned that official death tolls are likely to be underestimates.

Although heat is the leading cause of weather-related death in the United States — killing more people than hurricanes, tornadoes and wildfires combined — researchers, coroners and clinicians are still struggling to figure out how to accurately count deaths. Heat deaths aren’t always obvious; they’re often overlooked and classified as heart failure or other cardiovascular problems, even if heat was the trigger.

In several states where residents have experienced extreme temperatures in recent days (including Washington state, North Carolina and South Carolina), officials said they had not received any reports of heat-related deaths at this time. California’s public health department was unable to provide a statewide estimate of suspected heat-related deaths at the time of publication.

Federal data shows that heat-related deaths in the United States have been steadily increasing in recent years, reaching just over 2,300 in 2023. There were about 1,600 heat-related deaths in 2021, and about 1,700 in 2022.

Ashley Ward, director of the Center for Heat Policy Innovation at Duke University, said there are signs that reporting and classification of these deaths is improving. In the past, she said, it was very difficult to capture public interest in the dangers of heat. But that is starting to change.

“The extreme nature of the heat last summer and this summer has put it on everyone’s mind, including those tasked with classifying health outcomes and deaths,” Ward said. “Awareness plays a critical role in

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