November 25, 2003
Methodist Rehabilitation Center urges families to 'think first' about winter weather safety
By Susan Christensen
Health and Research News Service
JACKSON, Miss.—Ice, snowstorms and freezing temperatures aren’t that common in Mississippi, so many families are left unprepared and in a deadly situation when they do strike.
Dr. Rahul Vohra, medical director at Methodist Rehabilitation Center in Jackson, recommends taking a few simple precautions now to ensure your family is prepared for winter’s weather extremes. He encourages families to have safe emergency heating equipment available, such as enough wood for the fireplace and portable space heaters to keep warm.
According to the National Weather Service, more than half of injuries related to cold weather occur in people age 60 years and older and more than 75 percent are men. Twenty percent of hypothermia and frostbite cases occur inside the home.
“Hypothermia and frostbite can lead to loss of fingers and toes, result in permanent damage to the liver, kidney, pancreas and even cause death,” said Dr. Vohra. “Infants and the elderly are at highest risk, but everyone needs to know what to do if they experience any symptoms.”
Dr. Vohra says that frostbite can occur in just 30 minutes and the first sign is loss of feeling and a white or pale appearance in one extremity, such as a finger, toe, ear lobe or the tip of the nose.
“Hypothermia occurs when body temperature drops below 95 degrees Fahrenheit,” says Dr. Vohra. “Some common warning signs include uncontrollable shivering, slurred speech and disorientation. Those exposed should seek medical attention immediately.”
When assisting someone with suspected hypothermia, try to warm the person, beginning with the chest, back and abdomen areas. “You do not want to warm the extremities first because it sends cold blood toward the heart and can lead to heart failure,” said Dr. Vohra. “ If wet, help the person into dry clothes and wrap them in a warm blanket covering their head and neck.”
Lauren Fairburn, coordinator of Think First, Methodist Rehab’s statewide injury prevention program, says one way to plan for winter weather is to create a disaster kit.
“Flashlights, first-aid kits, fire extinguishers and extra batteries are essentials in a disaster kit,” Fairburn said. “In Mississippi, we see a lot of power outages from ice storms. Extra blankets, can openers and other non-electric items are important to have in a disaster kit.”
Dr. Vohra’s tips for winter safety are to:
- Conduct a pre-winter inspection in your home. Have your kitchen appliances, chimney, gas heater, furnace and space and water heaters checked to make sure they are working properly.
- Have a weather radio to listen to the latest storm warnings, watches and advisories.
- Have plenty of hats, gloves and blankets in case of a power outage.
- Stock up on firewood and matches.
- Make sure pets have plenty of food, water and shelter from the cold.
- Store extra medicine in your home in case of an ice storm.
- Have plenty of drinking water.
- Have extra food that requires no cooking or refrigeration.
- Keep a first-aid kit.
- Know Cardiopulmonary Rescue (CPR) so you can respond quickly in an emergency.