Weather preparedness tips for hypothermia, carbon monoxide poisoning and food safety

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

As the full brunt of winter approaches, the state Department for Public Healthoffers tips on cold-weather preparedness to prevent hypothermia, carbon-monoxide poisoning and unsafe food from power outages. The message is part of a “First 72 On You” campaign to remind Kentuckians to be prepared to manage without help for at least three days in the event of a weather emergency.

Hypothermia happens when your body loses heat faster than it can produce heat, causing a dangerously low body temperature. If left untreated, it can affect the brain, making the victim unable to think clearly or move well. It can also lead to heart and lung failure, and even death.

Hypothermia is often caused by immersion in cold water, but can also be a result of exposure to extremely cold temperatures. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it can also happen during cool temperatures (40 degrees) if a person is wet (from rain, sweat or cold water) and becomes chilled.

Symptoms include shivering; an altered speech pattern; abnormally slow rate of breathing; cold, pale skin; and lethargy. In infants, the symptoms include bright red or cold skin and very low energy levels. The health department advises that you seek medical attention if you or a loved one experiences the signs of hypothermia.

Here are the health department’s tips to prevent hypothermia:

  • Wear appropriate clothing, including layers of synthetic and wool fabrics, hats, coats, scarves and gloves. The best outerwear is water-resistant.
  • Avoid consuming alcohol if outdoors, which can speed the loss of heat from the body.
  • Avoid activities that cause excessive sweat, which leads to damp clothing, and chilling.
  • Stay as dry as possible
  • Outdoor workers should take special precautions to stay warm and dry.
  • The CDC recommends making a car emergency kit that among other things includes extra hats,coats and mittens, blankets, a cell phone and portable charger, water, snacks, a working flashlight and jumper cables.

Carbon monoxide: State health officials warn Kentuckians that using alternative heating sources like portable generators, kerosene heaters, propane gas stoves and ovens heated with gasoline can lead to carbon-monoxide poisoning.

CDC graphic

Carbon monoxide is an odorless, invisible gas produced when gasoline, natural gas, propane, kerosene and other fuels are not completely burned during combustion. Breathing in carbon monoxide prevents the body from using oxygen normally, and can result in death.

Early symptoms of carbon-monoxide poisoning include headache, nausea, vomiting and fatigue. If you are experiencing symptoms or if you have questions, call the Poison Control Hotline at 1-800-222-1222.

On a Facebook live event on this topic, Dr. Ardis Hoven, a consultant with the department, noted that about 170 people die every year in the U.S. from carbon-monoxide poisoning and that the state has upwards of 180 cases reported each year. “And this is something that is preventable,” she said.

Here are tips for avoiding carbon-monoxide poisoning:

  • Install battery-operated carbon-monoxide detectors in your home and replace the battery and device as required. If the detector sounds, leave your home and immediately call 911. It is recommended that a detector be placed outside each bedroom, on each level of the house, and in the basement.
  • Don’t use a generator, charcoal grill, camp stove or other gasoline or charcoal-burning device inside your home, basement or garage or near a window.
  • Don’t run a car or truck inside a garage attached to your house, even if you leave the door open.
  • Don’t burn anything in a stove or fireplace that isn’t properly vented. Have your chimney checked or cleaned yearly.
  • Don’t use a gas oven to heat your house.
  • Don’t place a portable heater within reach of children or pets, and don’t use a power strip or extension cord with it. Look for an Underwriter’s Laboratories (UL) safety label, and carefully read instructions before use.
  • Seek immediate medical attention if you suspect carbon-monoxide poisoning

Food safety: Power outages during extreme weather are something to plan for, especially when it comes to food safety and avoiding foodborne illness.

Make sure you have appliance thermometers in your refrigerator and freezer.The symptoms of foodborne illness include vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and flu-like symptoms such as fever, headache and body aches. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says foodborne illness usually occurs within one to three days of eating the contaminated food, but can also occur within 20 minutes or up to six weeks later.

Here are some food safety tips:

  • Refrigerated foods should be safe as long as power is out for no more than four hours.
  • If the thermometer in the freezer reads 41 degrees Fahrenheit or below, or the food still contains ice crystals, the food is safe and may be refrozen.
  • Throw out any perishable food in your refrigerator, such as meat, poultry, lunch meats, fish, dairy products, eggs and any prepared or cooked foods that have been above 41 degrees Fahrenheit for four hours or more.
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables are safe as long as they are still firm and have no evidence of mold or sliminess.
  • Freeze refrigerated items that you may not need immediately to keep them at a safe temperature longer.
  • Have coolers on hand to keep essential items refrigerated if the power will be out for more than four hours.
  • Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed to maintain the cold temperatures.
Other advice  includes having about three days of non-perishable food on hand in case of an emergency, refill medications before the bottle is empty during the winter months, and to make sure to have working flashlights in the home.
“Remember, the first 72 is on you,” Doug Hogan, spokesman for the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, said on Facebook.

For more information, you can re-watch a Facebook live event that is archived on the CHFS Facebook page. More information on this topic can be found at
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