Winters in Tennessee can be very unpredictable. That's why the Tennessee Department of Health urges everyone to be prepared for dangerous weather, the risk of hypothermia and other winter health concerns.
"Hypothermia occurs when the body's core temperature falls below 95 degrees Fahrenheit, just a few degrees less than the normal 98.6 degrees F," said TDH Chief Medical Officer David Reagan, MD, PhD. "Symptoms of hypothermia include being confused, sleepy, apathetic and delirious. Hypothermia can also cause a person to slip into a coma, causing the heart and respiratory system to fail."
The Tennessee Department of Health suggests dressing in layers, changing out of wet clothes, limiting time outdoors and avoiding alcohol. Adopting a "buddy" system is also recommended so friends can check on one another often to look for signs of cold weather health problems.
It's also important to be prepared for dangerous weather conditions when driving. These tips can help keep you and your family safe:
• Keep at least a half-tank of gas in your vehicle at all times and be sure you have an emergency kit in the vehicle. This should include candles and matches, a blanket, food such as energy bars and water, a small shovel, flashlight with fresh batteries, first aid supplies, a charger for your cell phone, ice scraper, gloves and extra clothing.
• Before traveling, have a mechanic inspect your vehicle to ensure it is road-worthy for winter. This should include a check of the battery, anti-freeze and tires. Also ask for a check of the exhaust system; a leaky exhaust system could cause dangerous carbon monoxide to enter the passenger compartment.
• Always tell someone your travel route and when you will arrive and return. If you don't have to drive, stay home or use public transportation.
Carbon monoxide poisoning is also a threat during the winter months. Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless and tasteless gas that causes more than 400 deaths and 20,000 visits to hospital emergency rooms in the U.S. each year. It is found in combustion fumes produced by small gasoline engines, stoves, generators, lanterns and gas ranges, or by burning charcoal or wood in a fireplace. Carbon monoxide from these sources can build up in enclosed or partially enclosed spaces; people and animals in these spaces can be poisoned and can die from breathing the gas.
"Carbon monoxide is a silent killer: you can go to bed at night and you may not wake up the next morning. Take the necessary steps needed if you develop any symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning like headaches, dizziness and weakness," said Paul Petersen, PharmD, Emergency Preparedness Program Director.
Tips to help avoid carbon monoxide poisoning:
• If your home heating system fails and you use a generator, do not operate it in the house where dangerous carbon monoxide fumes can accumulate. Follow all product instructions and use caution to prevent build-up of fumes when using kerosene heaters.
• Make sure your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors have fresh batteries and are working properly.
• Never use an outdoor grill indoors for cooking or warmth, as these grills put out significant amounts of carbon monoxide and increase fire danger.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers tips on winter health and safety, including checklists to help you prepare for winter weather, at www.bt.cdc.gov/disasters/
The mission of the Tennessee Department of Health is to protect, promote and improve the health and prosperity of people in Tennessee. TDH has facilities in all 95 counties and provides direct services for more than one in five Tennesseans annually as well as indirect services for everyone in the state, including emergency response to health threats, licensure of health professionals, regulation of health care facilities and inspection of food service establishments. Learn more about TDH services and programs at http://health.state.tn.us/.