State Health Commissioner Urges New Yorkers to Protect Against Extreme Cold

ALBANY, N.Y. (Jan. 8, 2010) – With sub-freezing temperatures forecasted for much of the state this weekend, State Health Commissioner Richard F. Daines, M.D., is urging New Yorkers to take precautions against extreme cold.

"While New Yorkers are used to cold weather, exposure to the cold can sometimes cause life-threatening conditions, such as hypothermia and frostbite," Commissioner Daines said. "Taking common-sense precautions while indoors and outdoors against the cold can protect and avoid these serious health risks."

There were 49 deaths from exposure to extreme cold reported in New York State from 2005 to 2007.

Hypothermia is the 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 dangerous and can be fatal if not detected immediately and treated properly.

Commissioner 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 and infants, hypothermia can also occur indoors, so the thermostat should be set no lower than 65 degrees. The warning signs of hypothermia are shivering, confusion, memory loss, drowsiness, exhaustion, slurred speech, puffy face, shallow breathing, a slow heartbeat and weak pulse.

Frostbite 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. 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 wet clothing.

When outside, take extra precautions to reduce the risk of hypothermia and frostbite. In high wind conditions, cold weather-related health problems are much more likely. Be sure the outer layer of clothing is tightly woven to reduce body-heat loss caused by wind. If you will be spending time outside, do not ignore shivering – it is an important first sign that the body is losing heat and a signal to quickly return indoors.

Drinking alcoholic beverages before going out in the cold can give people a false sense of body warmth. Instead, alcohol can lead to disorientation and raise the risk of falling on icy pavements.

Because cold weather puts an extra burden on the heart, if you have cardiac problems or high blood pressure, follow your doctor's orders about shoveling or performing any strenuous exercise outside. Even otherwise-healthy adults should remember that their bodies already are working overtime just to stay warm, and dress appropriately and work slowly when doing heavy outdoor chores.

More information is available at the state Health Department Web site at: www.nyhealth.gov/environmental/emergency/weather/cold/cold_weather_tips.htm