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Use common sense safety during extreme cold weather

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Cold winter weather is gripping Tennessee this week, with more bitter cold temperatures and snow predicted for much of the state in the coming days.

The Department of Health is reminding Tennesseans to take precautions to stay safe during extreme cold weather.

“Winter weather with temperatures below freezing can be deadly, and we want Tennesseans to take the needed precautions to protect themselves from extreme cold very seriously,” said Health Commissioner Susan R. Cooper, MSN, RN.

When exposed to cold temperatures, the human body begins to lose heat faster than it can be produced. Prolonged exposure to cold will eventually use up the body’s stored energy. The result is hypothermia, or abnormally low body temperature. Hypothermia affects the brain, making the victim unable to think clearly or move well. Hypothermia is particularly dangerous because a person may not know it is happening and may not be able to do anything about it. Hypothermia is most likely to occur at very cold temperatures, but can occur even at temperatures above 40° F if a person becomes chilled from rain, sweat or submersion in cold water.

Frostbite is an injury to the body caused by freezing, and results in a loss of feeling and color in affected areas. It most often affects the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers or toes. Frostbite can permanently damage the body, and severe cases can lead to amputation. The risk of frostbite is increased in people with reduced blood circulation and among people who are not dressed properly for extremely cold temperatures.

Cold weather also puts an extra strain on the heart. If you have heart disease or high blood pressure, follow your doctor’s advice about shoveling snow, chopping wood or performing other hard work in the cold. Otherwise, if you have to do tiring outdoor chores, dress warmly and work slowly. Remember your body is already working hard just to stay warm, so don’t overdo it.

The following tips will help keep you and your family safe and healthy during extremely cold weather:

• Try to stay indoors when weather is extremely cold, especially if winds are high. If you must go outdoors, make trips outside as brief as possible. • When going outside during very cold weather, adults and children should wear a hat, a scarf or knit mask to cover face and mouth, sleeves that are snug at the wrist, mittens (they’re warmer than gloves), a water-resistant coat and boots and several layers of loose-fitting clothing• Be sure the outer layer of your clothing is tightly woven to reduce body heat loss caused by wind. Wind-resistant fabrics are best. Wool, silk or polypropylene inner layers of clothing will hold more body heat than cotton. • Stay dry, as wet clothing chills the body rapidly. Excess perspiration will increase heat loss, so remove extra layers of clothing whenever you feel too warm. • Avoid getting gasoline or alcohol on your skin while fueling and deicing your car or using a snow blower. These substances in contact with the skin greatly increase heat loss from the body. • Do not ignore shivering. It’s an important first sign that the body is losing heat. Persistent shivering is a signal to return indoors. • Avoid alcohol and caffeinated beverages, which cause your body to lose heat more rapidly. Alcohol can also impair judgment and lead to ignoring signs of cold stress on the body.

Walking on ice is also extremely dangerous. Many cold weather injuries result from falls on ice-covered sidewalks, steps, driveways and porches. Keep your steps and walkways as free of ice as possible by using rock salt or another chemical deicing compound. Sand may also be used on walkways to reduce the risk of slipping.

The State of Tennessee has many resources available to help keep you safe and healthy during winter weather.

Winter driving tips:  www.tdot.state.tn.us/mediaroom/snowbuster.htm

Safe home heating: http://tn.gov/commerce/sfm/documents/WinterWeatherHeatingBulletin2010.pdf

Home energy assistance: www.tennessee.gov/humanserv/adfam/afs_hea.html

For more information on staying healthy during extreme cold weather, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site at www.bt.cdc.gov/disasters/winter/pdf/cold_guide.pdf.

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