Heat related deaths and illnesses are preventable, yet every year approximately 400 people succumb to the extreme temperatures and humidity. In Arkansas, an average of 10 people die every year from heat related illnesses.

While the elderly, people with health problems, and very young children are the most vulnerable, heat can affect anyone.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) says air-conditioning is the number one protective factor against heat-related illnesses and death.

However, there are over 500,000 Arkansans living below the federal poverty level. As you can imagine increased electricity bills during the summer months can put an enormous strain on family budgets.

There is a federal program called the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). The LIHEAP assists qualified families with home energy needs such as heating in the winter, cooling in the summer and insulating homes for energy efficiency. LIHEAP allows families to prevent electrical service interruptions and make weather-related improvements to their homes to maximize the effectiveness of the electricity needed to stay.

This year, however, significant cuts were made as part of the U.S. government’s sequestration budget cuts. To see if assistance is available in your area go to acaaa.org.

If LIHEAP is not an option for you, many utility companies are willing to work with customers during the summer months to make payment arrangements.

In light of the federal cuts, this may be the summer where Arkansans show the generous spirit they are known for. Please check on your neighbors and especially the elderly. And if you know of programs in your area offering assistance and have the means to do so, please give.

In the meantime, the Arkansas Department of Health offers the following tips to beat the heat.

* NEVER leave children, pets, or others alone in closed vehicles - Within minutes, the temperature inside a car can reach over 140 degrees F, which can kill.

* Slow down, and avoid strenuous activity. Even the healthiest people may be overpowered if they perform strenuous work outside during the heat of the day.

* Avoid too much sunshine, and postpone outdoor activities and games

* Drink plenty of fluids even if you do not feel thirsty

* Avoid alcohol and caffeine, which promote water loss

* Avoid extreme temperature changes, such as a taking a cool shower immediately after coming inside from hot temperatures

* If your home does not have air conditioning, go to a public building every day for several hours

* If you have to work outside, take frequent breaks, rest in the shade, and drink plenty of water.

* Dress for the weather: Wear loose-fitting, lightweight, lightly-colored clothing - Lightweight, lightly-colored clothing reflects heat and helps maintain normal body temperature

For more information on heat related illnesses and prevention please visit the Department of Health website at healthy.arkansas.gov.