12/29/2010 - Health Dept: Winter Weather Preparation

Department of Health and Senior Services
CONTACT: Office of Communications
(609) 984-7160
RELEASE: January 24, 2011

Protect Yourself from Frigid Weather and Winter Health Hazards

With frigid temperatures and wind chills near zero today and plunging temperatures predicted later this week, the Department of Health and Senior Services is advising New Jersey residents to take precautions against the extreme cold.

“Exposure to extreme cold can cause major health emergencies if you are not prepared,” said Health and Senior Services Commissioner Dr. Poonam Alaigh. “Frost bite, hypothermia and injuries due to over-exertion are common in these extreme conditions. Everyone should take precautions against the cold and to check on the safety of neighbors—especially those with weakened immune systems who may be at greater risk of cold related injuries,” Dr. Alaigh said.

Please make sure you take the following precautions before heading outside in bitterly cold temperatures:
Dress in multiple layers to stay warm. Wear a hat, scarf and gloves and be sure to stay dry to prevent body heat loss.
If you are shivering, go indoors immediately.

Stay alert to the symptoms of hypothermia and frost bite.

1.) Hypothermia: Feelings of confusion, drowsiness, disorientation and exhaustion. Victims of hypothermia are often (1) elderly people with inadequate food, clothing, or heating; (2) babies sleeping in cold bedrooms; (3) people who remain outdoors for long periods—the homeless, hikers, hunters, etc.; and (4) people who drink alcohol or use illicit drugs.

2.) Frost Bite: Tingling and numbness, white grayish areas of skin, skin that feels waxy. Check frequently on young children playing outside Be sure to check on family and neighbors who are at risk for cold related injuries including the elderly and those with illnesses. Keep pets inside

From more winter weather protection information please download the CDC’s Extreme Cold and Prevention Guide for more information.

Snow Removal

If you are inactive and have a history of heart trouble, talk to your doctor before you take on the task of shoveling snow.
Avoid caffeine or nicotine before beginning.
Drink plenty of water.
Dress in several layers so you can remove a layer as needed
Warm up your muscles before shoveling.
Begin shoveling slowly to avoid placing a sudden demand on your heart.
Bend from the knees (not the back) and tighten your stomach muscles as you lift the snow.
Plastic shovels are typically lighter than metal shovels and should be used when lifting snow.
If you are elderly or not physically fit, consider hiring someone to shovel.
If you are using a snow blower to clear snow, please be sure to adhere to the following safety tips offered by the US Consumer Product Safety Commission:
Stop the engine and use a long stick to unclog wet snow and debris from the machine. Do not use your hands to unclog a snow blower.
Always keep hands and feet away from all moving parts.
Never leave the machine running in an enclosed area.
Add fuel to the tank outdoors before starting the machine; don’t add gasoline to a running or hot engine. Always keep the gasoline can capped, and store gasoline out of the house and away from ignition sources.
If you have an electric-powered snow thrower, be aware of where the power cord is at all times.

Travel Safety
Ensure your car is in good working order and that they have a winter survival kit ready in case the car becomes disabled.

Additional tips include the following:

Service the radiator and ensure you have the proper level of antifreeze in your vehicle.  
Ensure you have enough windshield wiper fluid and that it is a brand designed specifically for colder temperatures.
Make sure your tires are in good condition and that the air pressure is set to manufacturer recommendations.

Motorists should also plan ahead and have a winter survival kit in their car from December through March that includes these items:

Blankets Tow rope
First aid kit Tire chains
Matches and can to melt snow for water Shovel
Windshield scraper Container of water
Booster cables Can of compressed air with sealant
Road maps Flashlight and extra batteries
Mobile phone Compass
Tool kit Brightly covered cloth
Paper towels Sand/Cat litter (for traction on ice/snow)

Motorists should also take additional precautions when traveling including:

Listening to weather reports to avoid hazardous traveling conditions.
Not traveling in low visibility conditions.
Avoid traveling on icy roads and surfaces.
Alert someone to your destination and when you expect to arrive.
Don’t rely on a car to provide heat as the car could break down.
Always carry additional warm clothing for winter conditions.

For more information on preparing yourself for winter travel, visit the Center for Disease Control at http://www.bt.cdc.gov/disasters/winter/guide.asp  

Additional Winter Storm Safety Tips:
Have in your home, and programmed into your cell phone, important phone numbers to emergency services – police and fire departments, fist aid squads, hospitals and the Red Cross for emergency and shelter information.

Always store enough food in your home for several days--including non perishable canned goods. Be sure to have a non-electric can opener in your home.
Be sure you have several days of prescription medication
Check up on elderly neighbors to make sure they are healthy and not in need of assistance.
Have a first-aid kit in your home.
Purchase Rock-salt to melt ice on walkways.
Ensure your home has a Flashlight and extra batteries.
Be sure to have Portable space heaters or kerosene heaters.

For a complete list of winter safety tips please visit the CDC or the American Red Cross websites.