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For Release: January 27, 2010
Health Precautions Related to Cold Weather and Power Loss
As a potentially significant winter storm approaches Oklahoma, the Oklahoma State Department of Health offers the following safety and health precautions related to cold weather and loss of power.
If you are using water that you think might not be safe to drink or prepare food, you should attempt to vigorously boil the water for at least one minute to prevent potential waterborne illnesses. Safe water would include store-bought bottled water, or uninterrupted city water.
Don’t skate, slide, or sled on frozen ponds, creeks, rivers, or lakes. Although the water appears to be frozen, it may not be solid enough to support the weight of a person. Temperatures in Oklahoma are never cold enough to completely freeze recreational water.
Power outages present problems with food safety as well as with heating. If people at home or those in food establishments have had a loss of power for more than four hours, take the following precautions with refrigerated food products:
Eat and Drink Wisely & Avoid Alcohol
Eating high-energy, well-balanced meals will help you stay warmer. Do not drink alcoholic beverages -- they cause your body to lose heat more rapidly. Instead, drink warm, sweet beverages such as hot chocolate or sweetened coffee or tea to help maintain your body temperature. If you have any dietary restrictions, ask your doctor. Drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration.
When temperatures fall and power goes out, the possibility of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning rises as people try to stay warm. Invisible, odorless and tasteless, CO is a highly poisonous gas produced by the burning of fuel such as gasoline, natural gas, kerosene, charcoal or wood. Unvented or faulty gas and kerosene appliances have the greatest potential to produce dangerous levels of CO in a home. Smoldering or poorly vented fireplaces, slow-burning fuels such as charcoal and vehicle exhausts also are potential indoor hazards. Take these precautions:
Because of power outages in city utilities, be aware of the potential for sewage to back up into your home. If you do experience sewage problems remember that exposure to raw sewage can cause several infectious diseases. Try to avoid direct contact with sewage, and practice good hand washing and personal hygiene following contact.
Respiratory disease can be a significant problem when people stay together in crowded conditions. To help prevent respiratory disease, be sure to cover your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing, and use good personal hygiene and thorough hand-washing practices to further reduce risk of transmission.
Slips and Falls
Everyone, especially the elderly, should avoid walking on ice. A short trip to the mailbox or to retrieve the paper could result in a longer trip to the hospital if you slip and fall. In Oklahoma, the ice is often nearly invisible (black ice) so caution should be taken after precipitation.
Extreme Cold Exposure
Prolonged exposure to the cold can cause frostbite, hypothermia, or in extreme cases, death. Infants and the elderly are most susceptible to extreme cold. Frostbite occurs when the skin becomes cold enough to actually freeze. A loss of feeling and a white or pale appearance in extremities, such as fingers, toes, ear lobes, or the nose are symptoms of frostbite. Hypothermia (low body temperature) can occur during longer periods of exposure when the body temperature drops below 95 F. A person will become disoriented, confused, and shiver uncontrollably, eventually leading to drowsiness and apparent exhaustion. In severe cases, death is possible. The following tips can help decrease the risk of cold exposure:
For more information on winter weather precautions, visit this Web site: http://www.bt.cdc.gov/disasters/winter/guide.asp.
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