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Health officials urge preparedness for winter weather woes

December 6th, 2013 7:35 pm by Nick Shepherd

Health officials urge preparedness for winter weather woes

Get a kit. Make a plan. Stay informed.

That was the message delivered by both Tennessee and Virginia health officials in a joint press conference on Friday. The press conference kicked off a being prepared for winter weather campaign.

“Every year citizens become injured and unfortunately, we may have some fatalities because of severe winter weather,” said Gary Mayes, director of the Sullivan County Regional Health Department. “Some folks have issues with transportation. We hope to mitigate some of that by bringing up awareness.” 

Experts were at the press conference to discuss a number of issues related to winter weather. Jim Bean, director of the Sullivan County Emergency Management agency, talked about the importance of carbon monoxide detectors.

Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas that can be found in small gas engines and cooking devices in homes. Some of the signs and symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include headaches, dizziness, weakness, nausea and confusion.

Bean said getting a carbon monoxide detector is essential to early detection.

Bean also said prevention is the best way to get through the winter. He said it’s best to do preparation now. Some of the tips he gave included making sure your home is well insulated, leaving sinks on a drip, keeping chimney’s clean, having a fire extinguisher on hand, knowing how to shut your water off and putting together an emergency supply kit.

Bean said a good kit would have a three day supply of nonperishable food. A gallon of water for every member of the family, including pets, flashlights, battery-powered radios and extra batteries, whistles, warm clothing and blankets and a manual can opener, among other items.

If you’re going to be outside during the winter, you should wear light clothes in layers, according to Steve Davis, western regional healthcare emergency coordinator for the Virginia Department of Health. He said the air between the layers creates insulation. He also said to wear mittens instead of gloves because fingers are warmer when allowed to touch each other.

Frostbite and hypothermia are also big concerns for citizens with winter fast approaching. Frostbite is injury to tissue caused by freezing. It can cause permanent damage and lead to amputation.

Dr. David Kirschke, medical director of the Northeast Tennessee Regional Health Department, said dehydration and exhaustion can increase susceptibility to frostbite as well as some medical conditions, like diabetes.

He said the best way to prevent frostbite is to stay covered up and at the first signs of any problems, move indoors or cover up. He said seek medical attention, but if you can’t, get the body part covered up as quickly as possible. He said to use warm water to warm the body part up.

People who are experiencing some of the symptoms of frostbite could also be suffering from hypothermia.

Hypothermia means a person’s core body temperature is too low. People who are hiking, camping or hunting are more susceptible to hypothermia. Dr. Stephen May, medical director of the Sullivan County Regional Health Department, said hypothermia can happen in temperatures as high as 50 degrees.

“If you see somebody and you think they’re hypothermic, the first thing you need to do is take their temperature if you have that capability,” May said. “If that temperature is below 95, that’s a medical emergency.” 

All the medical experts said to have a written emergency plan in place and to be aware of what the weather is going to be so you can take the necessary precautions.

“Awareness, having a plan and staying informed is the key mantra here,” Mayes said.

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