Protect Against Extreme Cold, Urges State Health Commissioner

ALBANY, N.Y. (Jan. 13, 2009) - With a return of sub-freezing temperatures and a continued frigid forecast for the rest of this week, State Health Commissioner Richard F. Daines, M.D., is urging New Yorkers to take precautions against extreme cold.

"Exposure to cold can cause life-threatening health conditions, such as hypothermia and frostbite," said Dr. Daines. "To avoid these serious conditions, New Yorkers can take simple, common sense precautions to protect themselves while indoors and outdoors."

Hypothermia is a general cooling of the whole body over time and is most common when a person's core body temperature drops below 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Hypothermia is not only dangerous, it can be fatal if not detected immediately and treated properly.

Dr. Daines emphasized that those most at risk are the elderly, infants, and those who work or play outdoors. For individuals over 65 years of age, hypothermia can occur indoors and the thermostat should be set no lower than 65 degrees. In addition, infants should never sleep in a cold room.

Dr. Daines encourages individuals to be observant of the warning signs of hypothermia, which include shivering, confusion, memory loss, drowsiness, exhaustion, slurred speech, puffy face, shallow breathing, a slow heartbeat and weak pulse.

Frostbite, another cold weather concern, is especially dangerous because it often happens with little warning. Numbness can occur so quickly that the individual is unaware of being frostbitten and may remain outside in the cold. There are three stages of frostbite: the first stage is a whitening of the skin, followed by redness, tingling and loss of feeling to the body. During the second stage the skin turns purple and blisters will begin to form. Lastly, the third stage of frostbite can lead to gangrene and amputation. 

To protect against frostbite, wear a hat, hood, or scarf and keep fingertips, earlobes, and nose covered at all times. Wear layers of clothing and immediately remove any articles of wet clothing.

More information is available at the State Health Department Web site at: