DHMH Begins Extreme Cold Weather Monitoring and Reporting; First hypothermia-related death for the season confirmed

Baltimore, MD (December 4, 2013) — The first Maryland death related to hypothermia this season has been reported, according to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME) and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s (DHMH). The death was an adult male (aged 18-65 years) in Prince George's County. No additional details will be released to protect the privacy of his family.

From December through March, DHMH monitors temperature conditions and incidences of cold-related illnesses and deaths. DHMH today issued it's first weekly report here: http://dhmh.maryland.gov/winterrpts/.

The reports provide guidance and information about deaths and illness caused by extreme cold in the region. Other topics on the site include the State Cold Weather Emergency Plan and fact sheets on cold weather health issues, carbon monoxide, driving tips for extreme cold weather and the warning signs of a heart attack.

“Marylanders can be at risk during periods of extreme cold,” says Dr. Laura Herrera, DHMH Deputy Secretary for Public Health Services. “By knowing the risks, you can take steps to stay safe and healthy this winter.”

Some of the dangers associated with winter weather include hypothermia, frostbite, carbon monoxide poisoning and injuries from heat sources. Hypothermia occurs when the body temperature falls below 95ºF. In the 2012-13 winter reporting season, there were 30 hypothermia-related deaths in Maryland.

Frostbite is the freezing and subsequent destruction of body tissue that is likely to occur any time skin temperature gets much below 32ºF. The areas most likely to freeze are toes, fingers, ears, cheeks and the tip of the nose.

DHMH offers these tips for protecting yourself and your family in extreme cold weather:
  • Cover your head. You lose as much as 50 percent of your body heat through your head.
  • Wear several layers of lightweight, loose-fitting clothing. The air between the layers acts as insulation to keep you warmer.
  • Cover your mouth with a scarf to protect lungs from direct cold air. Cover your ears and the lower part of your face, too.
  • Wear mittens rather than fingered gloves. The close contact of fingers helps keep your hands warm.
  • Wear warm leg coverings and heavy socks, or two pairs of lightweight socks.
  • Wear waterproof boots or sturdy shoes to keep your feet warm and dry.
  • Be alert to other common winter hazards, such as carbon monoxide (CO) and injuries from heat sources. CO is produced by small gasoline engines, stoves, generators, lanterns and gas ranges, or by burning charcoal and wood. This colorless, odorless gas can cause severe illness and death. Heating sources can also cause fires, electrical injuries and burns if not properly installed, operated and maintained.
  • Review your family emergency communications plan and emergency supply kits for homes and vehicles. Each family member should know what to do and how to contact others should an emergency arise. The home emergency supply kit should include unexpired food items, medical supplies and batteries. Vehicles should contain items such as heavy blankets, water, nonperishable food, a flashlight and a snow shovel. More information on emergency preparedness is available at http://preparedness.dhmh.maryland.gov.

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