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Media Advisory

Frigid Temperatures Bring Health Risks

For Immediate Release: January 5, 2010
Contact: CDC Media Relations, (404) 639-3286

When the temperature drops, staying safe and warm and performing everyday activities can be challenging and dangerous. Young children, older adults, and the chronically ill are most at risk of having cold-related health problems. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urges people affected by the ongoing cold weather to take steps to protect themselves, and to check to be sure their families, friends, and neighbors stay safe and warm this winter.

Exposure to Extremely Cold Temperatures

Exposure to cold temperatures can cause serious and life-threatening health problems, including frostbite and hypothermia.  Seek immediate medical attention for symptoms of frostbite or hypothermia.  Frostbite causes skin to appear red and feel painful.  Without immediate medical attention, skin will then turn white or grayish and feel firm, waxy or numb.  Symptoms of hypothermia include shivering, exhaustion, confusion, fumbling hands, memory loss, slurred speech, and drowsiness.

When possible, people should stay indoors, in homes and buildings that are properly heated.  If your home is not heated, find other safe ways to stay warm. 

  • Wear winter clothing indoors, including layers of warm clothes, as well as socks, shoes, and hats.  Use blankets for additional warmth. 
  • Close off unused, exterior rooms and gather together in a single interior room.
  • Seek shelter in heated public places, like malls, libraries and homeless shelters.

Following these important safety tips can help protect those who must go outside in winter weather.

  • Wear appropriate outdoor clothing: layers of light, warm clothing; mittens; hats; scarves; and waterproof boots.
  • Sprinkle cat litter or sand on icy patches.
  • Be aware of the wind chill factor.
  • Work slowly when doing outside chores.
  • Take a buddy and an emergency kit when you are participating in outdoor recreation.
  • Avoid traveling when the weather service has issued advisories.
  • If you must travel, inform a friend or relative of your proposed route and expected time of arrival.
  • Carry a cell phone.

Staying Safe during a Power Outage

Be prepared for weather-related emergencies, including power outages.  When power outages occur during emergencies such as winter storms, the use of alternative sources of fuel or electricity for heating or cooking can cause carbon monoxide (CO) to build up in a home, garage, or camper and can kill the people and animals inside.  CO is an odorless, colorless gas that can cause sudden illness and death if inhaled.

  • Have a safe alternate heating source and alternate fuels available. Alternate heating sources can include properly used generators and well-maintained fireplaces.
  • Prevent carbon monoxide emergencies.
    • Have your heating system, water heater and any other gas, oil, or coal burning appliances serviced by a qualified technician every year.
    • Install a CO detector with a working battery to alert you of the presence of the deadly, odorless, colorless gas.
    • Learn symptoms of CO poisoning: headaches, nausea, and disorientation. Seek prompt medical attention if you suspect CO poisoning and are feeling dizzy, light-headed, or nauseous.
    • Always “warm up” your car or truck outside of your garage.  Attached garages can leak CO fumes into your house, even if you leave the door open.
    • Check to be sure your stove or fireplace is properly vented before burning anything in it.
    • Never heat your house with a gas oven.
    • Keep grills and generators out of the house and garage. Position generators at least 25 feet from the house.
  • Stock food that needs no cooking or refrigeration and water stored in clean containers.
  • Keep an up-to-date emergency kit, including:
    • battery-operated devices, such as a flashlight, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Weather Radio, and lamps;
    • extra batteries;
    • first-aid kit and extra medicine;
    • baby items; and
    • cat litter or sand for icy walkways.

Driving in Winter Weather

Snow, sleet and ice can affect driving conditions, making it more difficult to navigate the roads safely.  When winter weather makes driving difficult, the safest place to be is off the road.  If people must drive, they should take steps to be as safe as possible on the roads.

  • Keep gas tank full to avoid ice in the tank and fuel lines.
  • Use a wintertime formula in your windshield washer.
  • Keep a winter emergency kit in the car in case you become stranded. Include
    • blankets;
    • food and water;
    • booster cables, flares, tire pump, and a bag of sand or cat litter (for traction);
    • compass and maps;
    • flashlight, battery-powered radio, and extra batteries;
    • first-aid kit; and
    • plastic bags (for sanitation).
  • Follow these safety rules if you become stranded in your car.
    • Stay with your car unless safety is no more than 100 yards away, but continue to move arms and legs.
    • Stay visible by putting bright cloth on the antenna, turning on the inside overhead light (when engine is running), and raising the hood when snow stops falling.
    • Run the engine and heater only 10 minutes every hour.
    • Keep a downwind window open.
    • Make sure the tailpipe is not blocked.

 

For more information, please visit emergency.cdc.gov/disasters/winter or call 1-800-CDC-INFO.

 

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