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Tourists just keep disappearing in Greece and no one knows exactly why that is.

But scientists have a working theory.

After hiking in scorching temperatures on the Greek island of Symi, doctor and well-known TV presenter Michael Mosley was discovered dead earlier this month. But his wasn’t the only life that was lost, as a series of tourist deaths and disappearances have reportedly hit Greece as the country faces its early summer heat wave with temperatures soaring above 104 degrees.

Joining the dead are a Dutch tourist who was found on the island of Samos recently, and an American tourist who was found on Mathraki, a small island west of Corfu on Sunday. Regarding those who went missing, American tourist Albert Calibet hasn’t been seen since he went for hike on June 11 on Amorgos, while two French women vanished on Sikinos after they went out for a walk.

Even though the bodies of those who died are to be examined to establish a cause of death, there’s a stern warning from authorities to take the searing temperatures seriously.

“There is a common pattern,” Petros Vassilakis, the police spokesman for the Southern Aegean, told Reuters. “They all went for a hike amid high temperatures.”

To some scientists, what’s happening in Greece provides a warning sign about the impacts of what extreme heat can do to the body and the brain, in particular. Extreme heat can cause confusion which affects the individuals decision-making abilities and how they may take risks.

Could this mean more deaths and disappearances during severe heat waves?

According to Damian Bailey, a physiology and biochemistry professor at the University of South Wales told CNN, the “brain” is the “master switch” for the body.

“The brain, for me, is the key to it all,” he said.

The brain regulates the body’s temperature where the hypothalamus, a small diamond-like structure, acts as a thermostat. Its job is to keep the body’s internal temperature at or very close to 37 degrees Celsius, or 98.6 Fahrenheit. In hot weather, the hypothalamus activates the sweat glands, widening the blood vessels to cool down the body. But in extreme heat, the heat can drain the body’s fluids and halt blood flow to the brain, according to Bailey.

He even compared the brain to a Hummer, concluding that the organ needs vast resources to function.

One test he ran on research participants in an environmental chamber, where he raised the temperatures from around 70 to 104 Fahrenheit, showed a significant drop by about 9% to 10% in blood flow to the brain.

“That is a big deal in terms of not getting enough fuel into an engine which is running at high end all of the time,” Bailey said to CNN.

Kim Meidenbauer, a neuroscientist at Washington State University, also told CNN that extreme heat can stop the brain from functioning properly.

Activities that we take for granted such as thinking, reasoning and remembering can get “thrown out of whack,” she added.

It also gets harder to make complex decisions and there’s also evidence suggesting people being more likely to make risky decisions and engage in impulsive behavior when exposed to heat.

“You’re not just talking about potentially getting a little bit too warm and maybe having a sunburn,” Meidenbauer said to CNN. “You’re talking about potentially life-threatening (situations), like making poor decisions, having your judgement clouded.”

Scientists are in the beginning stages of decoding the range of impacts heat has on the brain.

“Our understanding is really pretty minimal. It’s a major unknown at this point,” Meidenbauer added.

Older people, especially those over the age of 65, are high at risk due to their bodies not always thermoregulating well.

After all, the people who disappeared in Greece were all in their mid-50s and older.

Additionally, very young children and pregnant women also face an elevated risk, as well as those with pre-existing medical conditions, including mental health conditions.

But it’s important to remember that heat can be dangerous for anyone.

“No one is immune to the health effects of heat,” Jose Guillermo Cedeño Laurent, one of the research authors and an assistant professor at the Rutgers School of Public Health, added. “Our brain is an exquisitely sensitive organ,” he said.

“You make wrong decisions and it can cost you your life.”



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