COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - The first heat-related death happened Tuesday evening in Columbus after 54-year-old Barbara Sternberg dies of hyperthermia, according to the Muscogee County Coroner's Office.
But medical experts with the West Central Georgia Department of Public Health say heat-related illnesses and deaths are 100 percent preventable.
Valerie Scruggs, a Registered Nurse with the West Central Georgia Department of Public Health said it only takes 5 minutes for a person's body to get in the danger zone of overheating.
"Medical conditions, medications a person is taking and their age and where you're working are several variables or contributing factors that could cause your body to heat up very fast," said Scruggs.
There are steps people can take to help avoid heat exhaustion when working outdoors or sitting in a hot car. Scruggs recommends loosening your clothes, getting in a shaded area as quickly as possible and drink plenty of water if you start to feel faint or sweaty.
"Drink between 2 to 4 glasses of water every hour if you're working outside to stay hydrated. Get somewhere as soon as you can to get out of the car and into a cool environment to start lowering your body temperature," added Scruggs.
The body starts to shut down when it doesn't get the basic essentials needed to function properly like oxygen and water.
"When in excessive heat, your body temperature will start to rise which can cause you to become confused and disoriented, your blood will start to thin and your blood pressure can go up, your heart starts to overwork a little and you do start to feel faint."
In Sternberg's case, authorities said it's unclear if she was arriving or leaving the Medical Center parking lot when she was found dead inside her car by hospital security. Her keys were in her pocket.