Oswego County Public Information Office, 46 East Bridge St., Oswego, NY 13126

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Jan. 14, 2004

County Health Department Warns of Winter Health Hazards

Oswego County can be a winter wonderland during the winter months, providing plenty of snow to enjoy outdoor recreation and sports. With it come the hazards of winter storms and biting cold that are not only uncomfortable and inconvenient, but can be life-threatening. Being out in the cold for too long can make you vulnerable to hypothermia and frostbite.

Hypothermia is a dangerous condition that causes a person's core body temperature to drop. Warning signs of hypothermia in adults include shivering, confusion, memory loss, drowsiness, exhaustion and slurred speech. Infants who are suffering from hypothermia may appear to have very low energy and bright red, cold skin. "The elderly and infants are at increased risk of hypothermia because they cannot easily regulate their body temperature," said Kathleen Smith, Commissioner of Health Services for Oswego County.

In homes of people who are over 65, the thermostat should be set no lower than 65 degrees, or 70 degrees if residents are 75 or older. Infants should not sleep in a cold room and should be provided with warm clothing and a blanket to prevent loss of body heat. Following these guidelines will help prevent accidental hypothermia from occurring.

Frostbite is another concern during cold weather and often occurs with little warning, said Smith.

"Numbness can occur so quickly that the individual is unaware of being frostbitten. Older persons and persons with diabetes are at greater risk due to poor circulation," she said.

There are three stages of frostbite: First-degree frostbite causes numbness, whitening of the skin, and tingling. Second-degree frostbite turns the skin purple and blisters form. Those subjected to extreme exposure may suffer from third degree frostbite, which can lead to gangrene and amputation.

To prevent frostbite and hypothermia, it is important to dress in layers and have windproof clothing. Layers of loose-fitting clothing help to trap body heat. Don't ignore shivering- it is the first sign that your body is losing heat and should signal you to go indoors. Most of your body heat is lost from your head, so don't forget to wear a hat that covers your ears, along with gloves or mittens. Be aware of the wind chill. As the speed of the wind increases, it can carry body heat away faster. "If you will be spending time outdoors this winter, dress warmly, stay dry, and don't ignore warning signs of over-exposure or strain when shoveling or doing other outdoor chores," said Smith.

For more information, contact the Oswego County Health Department at 349-3547.

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