It can be quite difficult to determine exactly how many deaths can be attributed to heat waves. Complicating the issue is the concept of mortality displacement -- the idea that heat waves mainly affect people who are already in poor health. Even so, most "research suggests that although mortality displacement does account for some of the heat-related mortality, the majority of those killed by a heat wave would not have died without the oppressive heat," said Adam J. Kalkstein, a geography and environmental engineering professor at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

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