VANCOUVER – With low temperatures and high winds expected through the weekend, health and emergency management officials are urging seniors and other at-risk populations to protect themselves from cold exposure and homeless people to seek shelter.
“Prolonged exposure to cold eventually will use up your body’s stored energy, resulting in hypothermia or abnormally low body temperature,” said Dr. Alan Melnick, Clark County Health Officer/Public Health director. “This affects the brain, making hypothermia particularly dangerous because a person may be unaware of their condition and unable to do anything about it.”
People more likely to experience hypothermia or other cold-related conditions include homeless people or others who remain outdoors for long periods; elderly people with inadequate food, clothing or heat; babies sleeping in cold bedrooms; and, people who drink alcohol or use illicit drugs. Untreated, hypothermia can lead to death.
Hypothermia and frostbite are of special concern for unsheltered people who lack sufficient items such as coats, hats, gloves, footwear, tarps, sleeping bags and blankets. To donate cold weather gear, call 2-1-1 or visit www.211info.org.
To find shelter in Clark County, call the Council for the Homeless Housing Hotline at (360) 695-9677. You also can call 2-1-1 or visit www.211info.org. During business hours, people needing shelter can visit libraries, malls, community centers and other buildings.
Symptoms and treatment of hypothermia
Adults with hypothermia can experience shivering, fatigue, confusion, fumbling hands, memory loss and slurred speech. Infants can appear bright red with cold skin and demonstrate extremely low energy. Persons exhibiting these symptoms should get immediate medical attention. Until that’s available, take these steps:
- Get the person into a warm room or shelter and remove any wet clothing.
- Warm the center of the body first ‒ chest, neck, head and groin ‒ using an electric blanket, if available, or provide skin-to-skin contact under loose layers of blankets.
- Warm beverages can help increase the body temperature, but do not give alcoholic beverages. Do not try to give beverages to an unconscious person.
- After their body temperature has increased, keep the person dry and wrapped in a warm blanket, including the head and neck.
- If the person is unconscious, provide CPR, even if the victim appears dead. CPR should continue while the person is being warmed, until he or she responds or medical aid becomes available.
For additional information about hypothermia, visit www.cdc.gov/disasters/winter/staysafe/hypothermia.html.
For additional cold weather safety information, visit www.cdc.gov/disasters/winter/beforestorm/supplylists.html.