With low temperatures and snowy conditions around the state, many Kentuckians could be exposed to harsh winter elements. To prepare for these conditions, Kentucky Department for Public Health (DPH) officials are emphasizing the importance of limiting exposure to the cold and taking other necessary steps to prevent hypothermia. Meanwhile, parents and caregivers of infants are also advised to follow safe sleep practices to keep infants warm, in order to help prevent injury or infant deaths.
“Cold weather creates numerous potential public health concerns including hypothermia, carbon monoxide exposure and infant safety,” said Dr. Kraig Humbaugh, senior deputy commissioner for DPH. “We hope all Kentuckians will take some time to learn how to prevent these serious, and possibly fatal, health threats.”
Hypothermia occurs when an individual’s body temperature drops below what is necessary to achieve normal metabolism and other bodily functions.
In severe cases or when the body is not warmed properly, death can result.
People who aren’t sufficiently prepared for cold weather exposures are at an increased risk for the condition. To prevent hypothermia, DPH advises that Kentuckians:
· Wear appropriate clothing. Layer clothes made of synthetic and wool fabrics, which are best for keeping warm. Always remember to wear hats, coats, scarves and gloves.
· Avoid consuming alcohol if outdoors. Alcohol can actually speed the loss of heat from the body.
· Avoid overexertion from activities that cause excessive sweat. This can lead to damp clothing, which causes chills.
· Stay as dry as possible.
Individuals working outside during this time of year should pay extra attention to these guidelines, particularly those susceptible to overexertion. Symptoms of hypothermia include shivering, altered speech pattern, abnormally slow rate of breathing, cold pale skin and lethargy. Seek medical attention if you or a loved one experiences the signs of hypothermia.
Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
Often, in times of heavy snow and ice, power outages can occur and individuals must utilize alternative heat sources to heat their homes, increasing the possibility for exposure to dangerous levels of carbon monoxide. Items such as portable generators, propane gas stoves and ovens heated with gasoline all have been used inappropriately as indoor heating sources, which can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning as carbon monoxide is a by-product of burning carbon-based fuels. DPH advises taking steps to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning by following guidelines from the National Center for Environmental Health:
· 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.
· Don’t heat your house with a gas oven.
Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas. Seek immediate medical attention if you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning. Early symptoms include headache, nausea, vomiting and fatigue. Also be sure to install a battery-operated carbon monoxide detector in your home and replace the battery when you change the time on your clocks each spring and fall for daylight savings time.
“Carbon monoxide poisoning is deadly and should be taken seriously,” said Dr. Humbaugh. “We urge Kentuckians to take steps to prevent exposure to carbon monoxide and avoid inappropriate heating sources indoors, such as propane heaters and charcoal grills. It can be a matter of life or death.”
If you are experiencing symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning or if you have questions, call the Kentucky Regional Poison Control Center at (800) 222-1222. For more information about preventing carbon monoxide poisoning, see http://www.cdc.gov/co/.
Infant Safe Sleep
In general, parents and caregivers should follow the ABCs of safe sleep - Alone, on their Back and in a Clean, Clear Crib. Winter months prevent a different – but very serious – threat for babies when parents and caregivers resort to using unsafe sleep practices in an effort to keep babies warm.
“We realize parents and caregivers are often acting with good intentions, but bed-sharing and using blankets or added bedding to keep an infant warm are considered unsafe practices and put a baby at risk for injuries and even death,” said Dr. Ruth Shepherd, director of the DPH Division of Maternal and Child Health. “Always follow the principles of safe sleep. If the low temperatures are a concern, please follow these recommended guidelines to keep your baby warm – and safe – this winter.”
Here are a few tips to for safe sleep during the winter:
· For added warmth, a baby can be dressed in a one-piece pajama or wearable blanket. Wearable blankets can be layered over undershirts or onesie. Do not let a baby get too hot by overdressing them or wrapping them in heavy blankets.
· Keep the baby’s room at a comfortable temperature. Don’t overheat the room.
· Do not put a hat on your baby to sleep; there is a risk the hat could slip down, covering the baby’s face.
· If a blanket must be used to keep a baby warm, make sure the baby’s feet are at the bottom of the crib and the blanket is tucked in around the mattress. The blanket should be no higher than the baby’s chest with the baby’s arms out.
· Keep all portable heaters away from the baby and baby’s sleep area. The baby can overheat if too close to a heater, receive burns or become tangled up in cords of small electric heaters.
More information about safe sleep practices can be found at the SafeSleep Kentucky website http://www.safesleepky.org/. The information is part of a statewide campaign aimed at parents, caregivers, health care providers, advocates and others in the childcare community to stress the importance of safe sleep practices in the prevention of infant deaths.