Maryland health officials confirmed on Tuesday four more heat-related deaths, raising the toll to 38 deaths so far in 2012, a number that already surpasses last year's total.
All four occurred earlier this summer but were not found to be heat-related until recently. The victims included an elderly man and woman from Kent County, a man from Baltimore and a man fromSt. Mary's County.
There were 34 heat-related deaths statewide in 2011. This year's total, which keeps climbing, could surpass the highest since 2006, when 39 heat-related deaths were confirmed, according to a state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene document.
The state office of the chief medical examiner reviews suspicious deaths and is responsible for confirming heat-related fatalities. Heat is not typically the main factor — victims usually have underlying medical conditions such as heart or lung disease.
Autopsy reports, which would provide detail about the circumstances of the deaths, are not made public until two to three months after the fatalities. Not all the deaths confirmed as heat-related require autopsies, chief medical examiner Dr. David Fowler said.
The bulk of the heat-related deaths this year — 21 of them — occurred between June 29 and July 8, after a derecho storm struck the state and knocked out power to 1 million residents. Some of the deaths involved victims who were without air conditioning because of the outages, Fowler said.
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