To describe the characteristics of deaths reported to the Coroners Court of Victoria (CCOV) during Victoria’s last heatwave (14–17 January 2014) and subsequent 4 days (18–21 January) using medicolegal data obtained from both the police investigation report and the pathologist’s report.
Design, setting and participants
A single-jurisdiction population-based retrospective analysis of consecutive heat-related deaths (HRDs) reported to the CCOV between 14 and 21 January 2014 with a historical comparison group.
Main outcome measures
Descriptive statistics were used to summarise case demographics, causes of death and the types of investigations performed. The cases from 2014 were subgrouped into HRD and non-HRD.
Of the 222 cases during the study period in 2014, 94 (42.3%) were HRDs and 128 (57.7%) were non-HRDs. HRDs were significantly older than non-HRDs (70.5 years: SD=13.8 vs 61.0 years: SD=22.4, t(220)=3.60, p<0.001, 95% CI 4.3 to 14.6). The most common primary cause of death in HRDs was circulatory system disease (n=57, 60.6%), which was significantly higher when compared with non-HRDs (n=39, 30.5%; χ2=20.1, p<0.001, OR 3.5, 95% CI 2.0 to 6.2). HRDs required significantly greater toxicology investigation (89.4% (n=84) vs 71.9% (n=92); χ2=10.9, p<0.001, OR 3.3, 95% CI 1.54 to 7.03) and greater vitreous biochemistry testing (40.4% (n=38) vs 16.4% (n=21); χ2=16.0, p<0.001, OR 3.5, 95% CI 1.9 to 6.5).
A heatwave places a significant burden on death investigation services. The inclusion of additional laboratory tests and more detailed circumstantial information are essential if the factors that contribute to HRDs are to be identified.