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MRC News

Published on January 6, 2002
Jim Albritton
Health and Research News Service

JACKSON, Miss.—Freezing temperatures, ice and snow aren’t that common in Mississippi, but they can be deadly when they strike. A Methodist Rehabilitation Center physician says Mississippians can reduce or eliminate the dangers of severe weather by planning ahead and preparing for the worst.

Dr. Rahul Vohra, Methodist Rehab’s medical director, encourages Mississippians to have safe emergency heating equipment on hand, several days supply of wood for fireplaces and portable space heaters to keep warm.

“Hypothermia and frostbite can lead to loss of fingers, toes and can cause permanent damage to the liver, kidney, pancreas and can 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 try to warm their chest, back and abdomen and seek immediate medical attention.

“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, director of Think First, Methodist Rehab’s statewide safety and injury prevention program, says there are other safety concerns to consider during the winter such as eliminating fire hazards and the potential for carbon monoxide poisoning.

“Carbon monoxide is a colorless odorless gas that cuts off oxygen to the heart and brain and can cause death,” said Fairburn. “Having a carbon monoxide detector in every bedroom in a house could mean the difference between life and death.”

Fairburn says that malfunctioning furnaces and water heaters are the most common sources of carbon monoxide in the home.

She recommends checking batteries in smoke and carbon monoxide detectors once a month and to always keep other emergency supplies on hand.

“Flashlights, first-aid kits, fire extinguishers and extra batteries are essentials in a disaster kit.” said Fairburn. “It is also important to have extra blankets, can openers and other non-electric items available.”

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.

According to the National Weather Service, over 70 percent of ice and snow injuries occur from automobile accidents. More than half of injuries related to cold weather occur in people 60 years and older and more than 75 percent are men. Twenty percent of hypothermia and frostbite cases occur inside the home.

Methodist Rehab’s Think First program tries to prevent spinal cord, brain and other traumatic injuries by focusing on safety and injury prevention programs. Think First speakers volunteer their time to encourage others to wear safety belts when driving, helmets when riding bicycles and motorcycles and to always think first about what they’re doing before they get into any potentially dangerous situation.