It's a parent's worst nightmare, and it's all too possible during the summer season: a young child dying from heat-related injuries after being left alone in a vehicle.

(Noel Hendrickson, ThinkStock)

With many states getting their first dose of summer temperatures, two toddlers recently died in Florida and Georgia after their fathers allegedly left them in cars as the temperatures soared.

Since 1998, more than 600 children have died from heat-related injuries according to Safe Kids Worldwide, a child safety advocacy organization.

"Last year we saw 44 children die and so far this year we have seen 13," said Tareka Wheeler, United States program director for Safe Kids Worldwide.

Wheeler said even during relatively mild summer weather, the temperature inside a car can rise 20 degrees in 10 minutes. These types of conditions are especially dangerous for young children, who are more susceptible than adults to heat-related conditions.

"We know that their bodies heat up three to five times faster than that of an adult," Wheeler said.

Once a child's internal temperature reaches 104 degrees Fahrenheit, serious health issues can occur.

"That's when we start to see the major organs shut down and as the temperature within the body rises to 107 (degrees Fahrenheit), that's where we see unfortunate heat stroke death," Wheeler said.

According to Wheeler, more than half of child deaths from overheating in cars comes from parents or caregivers forgetting their child is in the vehicle.

"They had a change in their routine or maybe a different caregiver is taking their child that day," Wheeler added.

Children sneaking into cars and dying accidentally or without the knowledge of a parent or caregiver also account for numerous fatalities. Children accidentally being left in vehicles for too long during very warm weather is another major reason for the number of heat-related injuries and deaths among young children.

While Wheeler said most parents would never intentionally leave their children in a car for too long, it often happens unintentionally.

"The parent thinks they are going to run into the store or run a quick errand, thinking it's only going to take a few minutes, and unfortunately they get distracted and it rises to 10 or 15 minutes that they've been away from the car," Wheeler said.

Signs to look out for include the child sweating heavily, dry mouth, and lethargy. Wheeler advises caregivers to consult a pediatrician immediately if they suspect heat-related injuries.

Safe Kids Worldwide recommends parents follow the ACT protocol:

  • A: Avoid heat stroke-related injury and death by never leaving your child alone in a car, not even for a minute. And make sure to keep your car locked when you're not in it so kids don't get in on their own.
  • C: Create reminders by putting something in the back of your car next to your child such as a briefcase, a purse or a cell phone that is needed at your final destination. This is especially important if you're not following your normal routine.
  • T: Take action. If you see a child alone in a car, call 911. Emergency personnel want you to call. They are trained to respond to these situations. One call could save a life.