Health Dept.: Take precautions for bitter cold
(INDIANAPOLIS) – Extreme cold temperatures with wind chills below zero are forecast for Marion County and surrounding areas. The Marion County Public Health Department urges everyone to take the necessary precautions to keep themselves and others safe.
Time outside should be limited and exposed skin should be covered as much as possible. Adults and children should wear a hat; a scarf or knit mask to cover the face, mouth and neck; mittens or gloves; a water-resistant coat and boots; and several layers of loose fit clothing. It also is very important to stay dry, since wet clothing chills the body quickly.
“Serious health problems such as hypothermia and frostbite can result if a person is exposed to cold temperatures for a long period of time,” said Virginia A. Caine, M.D., director of the Marion County Public Health Department. “It is especially important for the very old and very young to be in a warm place when weather turns cold.”
Warning signs for hypothermia in adults include shivering, exhaustion, confusion, fumbling of hands, memory loss, slurred speech, and drowsiness. In infants, warning signs for hypothermia include red, cold skin, and very low energy. If a person’s body temperature falls below 95 degrees, seek medical attention immediately.
Any exposed skin that shows signs of redness or pain could be the result of frostbite. Other indications of frostbite are a white or grayish-yellow skin area, skin that feels unusually firm or waxy, or numbness. A person with symptoms of frostbite should seek medical care. Often, a person is unaware of frostbite until someone else notices because the skin is numb.
Infants less than one year old should never sleep in a cold room because they lose body more easily than adults. Infants are also unable to create heat by shivering, like adults. Make sure infants have a warm room for sleeping and dress them in warm clothing. Using extra blankets or soft bedding can increase the risk of smothering.
Anyone with older relatives or neighbors, or who knows someone with special needs, should check to make sure they have adequate heat in their living space. Also, take steps to help prevent water pipes in the home from freezing:
- Leave faucets or water taps on a continuous drip
- Keep the indoor temperature warm
- Open cabinet doors beneath the kitchen sink or other areas of the home
If pipes freeze, thaw them slowly by using warm air from a hair dryer. If the pipes cannot be thawed or become ruptured, use bottled water or water from a neighbor’s home.
Residents need to take extra caution if operating heating units that burn fuel, such as natural gas, kerosene, oil or wood. These can all be a source of carbon monoxide. Failure to properly maintain and operate wood-burning or fuel-burning heating sources could potentially release dangerous levels of carbon monoxide into the home. It is very important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions, especially any ventilation requirements.
If using a space heater, do not place it within three feet of anything that can catch fire, such as drapes, furniture or bedding. Keep the space heater away from water and do not place it on top of furniture or near water. Be sure the cord is not a tripping hazard, but do not run it under carpets or rugs. And avoid using extension cords to plug in a space heater.
Remember that extreme cold is also dangerous to pets. Bring pets inside or provide them adequate shelter to keep them warm, and make sure they have access to fresh, unfrozen water. Exposed skin on noses, ears and paw pads can quickly freeze and suffer permanent damage.
For more information on cold weather safety, go the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s emergency preparedness website, emergency.cdc.gov, and search for the Extreme Cold Guide.