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Baltimore, MD (December 7, 2011) -- Hypothermia was a contributing factor in the deaths of four people in Maryland this fall, according to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME). As more cold weather approaches, Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH) Secretary Dr. Joshua M. Sharfstein and health officials remind all residents to take the necessary steps to prepare for extreme cold weather and winter storms.

The October deaths included a senior (65 years old or more) in Montgomery County, and two adults (45-65 years of age) in Harford and Wicomico counties. A senior died in late November in Allegany County. In each case, hypothermia was a contributing factor to underlying conditions. No additional personal details will be released to protect the privacy of the individuals and their families. OCME reported 43 hypothermia-related deaths in Maryland during the 2010-2011 winter weather season.

“Cold weather can pose a variety of health and safety risks for individuals,” Dr. Sharfstein said. “It’s important to aware of those risks and take steps to keep you, your loved ones and neighbors safe.”

Dangers associated with winter weather include cold weather health hazards such as hypothermia and frostbite, as well as carbon monoxide poisoning and injuries from heat sources.

Hypothermia occurs when the body temperature falls below 95ºF. Frostbite refers to actual 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.

Tips for staying warm and healthy in extreme cold weather include:  

  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 to 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.

Additional safety tips for you and your loved ones include a review of the 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. Items in the home emergency supply kit should include unexpired food items, medical supplies and batteries. Vehicles should contain items such as heavy blankets, water, non-perishable food, a flashlight and a snow shovel.

To find more cold weather safety tips and to view weekly DHMH Cold Weather Reports that are posted on Tuesday afternoons, visit www.dhmh.maryland.gov and click on Cold Weather Facts under ‘Hot Topics.’


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