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PO Box 360
Trenton, NJ 08625-0360

For Release:
January 25, 2007

Fred M. Jacobs, M.D., J.D.
Commissioner

For Further Information Contact:
Nathan Rudy
609 984-7160


 
DHSS Urges New Jerseyans to Take Care of Self, Neighbors During Extreme Cold


 

TRENTON With the National Weather Service predicting extremely cold weather over the next few days, the Department of Health and Senior Services reminds residents that exposure to extremely cold temperatures for even short periods of time can cause serious medical conditions.

People should check to ensure that their families and elderly neighbors have functioning heating systems in their homes and cars and are dressing warmly when outside.

The most serious cold-related illness is hypothermia, a drop of body temperature from the normal 98.6 degrees to 95 or lower, a condition which requires immediate emergency medical care. If you know or suspect that you or someone you know is suffering from hypothermia immediately call 911 to receive assistance, said Health and Senior Services Commissioner Fred M. Jacobs, M.D., J.D.

"Hypothermia is treatable, but it must be dealt with immediately to prevent permanent damage or even death," said Commissioner Jacobs. "With temperatures reaching down to extreme lows tonight and as the winter progresses, everyone should be on the lookout for their own health and the health of their friends and loved ones."

The young, the elderly, the homeless, the mentally ill and those with chronic medical conditions are most at risk for hypothermia, Commissioner Jacobs noted. In 2004, 15 New Jerseyans died from hypothermia including 9 people over 55 years old.

At the earliest stages of hypothermia, violent shivering is the most noticeable symptom. As body temperature continues to drop, shivering will decrease and often stops; speech is distorted or slurred; behavior may become irrational; drowsiness or numbness occurs; pulse weakens; and the victim experiences shortness of breath and unconsciousness.

Hypothermia can be fatal if not treated. If you notice signs of hypothermia in someone, call 911 for medical attention immediately. While waiting for assistance, you should:

  • Prevent further heat loss by moving the person to a warmer area;
  • Remove wet or damp clothing and replace it with dry clothing
  • Slowly give the person warm liquids if (s)he is conscious;
  • Do not warm the person further. If the arms and legs are warmed before the chest and abdomen, the person could go into shock.

To prevent hypothermia and other ailments due to excessive cold indoors, residents should maintain a residence-wide temperature of 68 degrees using a regularly inspected heating system. Portable gas and propane heaters are not recommended except in emergency situations due to risk of fire and gas leaks. Healthy adults should check frequently on children, the elderly and sick friends and neighbors who may need a helping hand.

Tenants and homeowners with heating issues need to call their landlord and/or public utility for assistance. Links to electric and gas utilities and suppliers in New Jersey as well as service area maps are available on the Board of Public Utility web site at http://www.nj.gov/bpu/home/custAssistance.shtml.

For very low-income residents who are having difficulty affording their heating and utility bills, the Department of Community Affairs Home Energy Assistance Program can assist with heating and cooling bills, and make provisions for emergency heating system services and emergency fuel assistance. More information on this program is available at http://www.nj.gov/dca/dcr/hea/index.shtml or by calling 1 (800) 510-3102.

Other advice for avoiding cold-related illness and injury:

  • Dress in layers while outdoors and remember to wear a hat and gloves to help retain body heat. If you get wet, either from heavy sweating while working or from rain or snow, change into dry clothes as soon as possible;
  • Eat well and drink adequate fluids during periods of cold stress. Avoid drinking alcohol since it can accelerate the lost of body heat;
  • Many cold-weather injuries result from falls on ice-covered sidewalks and other surfaces around the home. Use rock salt or other chemical de-icing compound to keep walkways, steps, driveways and porches as ice-free as possible;
  • Avoid shoveling snow if you are out of shape. If you have a history of heart trouble, do not shovel unless your doctor approves;
  • Read the owners manual and follow all safety guidelines when using a snow blower. Injuries related to snow blower use lead to more than 5,000 emergency department visits each year, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention;
  • If you will be outdoors in the sun for an extended period, remember to use sunscreen and sunglasses, particularly if you are at higher altitudes;
  • Stock your car with emergency gear, such as cell phone; jumper cables; flashlight; sand or kitty litter for extra traction; ice scraper and small shovel; and flares and other warning devices. For long car trips; carry food; water; extra blankets and required medications.

For more information on health-related matters, visit http://www.bt.cdc.gov/disasters/winter/ or the department's web site at http://nj.gov/health/eoh/survweb/coldfact.pdf.

 
 
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