(Washington, DC) - Ivan C.A. Walks, M.D., Chief Health Officer of the District of Columbia and Director, Department of Health, issued a hypothermia alert today based on the National Weather Services forecast for rain, sleet, and snow during inaugural activities on Saturday, January 20, 2001.
Dr. Walks also issued guidelines on steps to guard against hypothermia. "Those most in danger of suffering from exposure to cold weather include the elderly, the very young, and those with chronic or underlying illnesses," he said.
Hypothermia is a life threatening condition where the body temperature falls below 35 degrees centigrade (95 degrees Fahrenheit) instead of the usual body temperature of 37 degrees centigrade (98.6 degrees Fahrenheit).
"If you are exposed to temperatures below 32 degrees Fahrenheit or wet temperatures with a wind chill factor for a long time, you are at risk for hypothermia," said Dr. Walks. "If you start to feel disoriented, your breathing slows and you have difficulty speaking, stay calm, but get to shelter immediately."
Hypothermia Warning Signs:
- Intense shivering or trembling
- Skin becomes grayish or pale in color
- Muscles become cold or stiff
- Difficulty speaking
- Confusion or forgetfulness
- Slow breathing
- Feeling sleepy or losing consciousness
If you recognize signs of hypothermia in yourself or others, immediately cover yourself or the person with a blanket, or get them to shelter if possible. If the victim is conscious, provide warm (not hot) liquids. Never give a hypothermia victim an alcoholic beverage. If they do not respond or seem to be getting worse, call 911 immediately to request emergency assistance. During cold weather it is important to avoid alcohol consumption and extremely hot or cold showers.
The best way to prevent hypothermia is to stay warm and dry. If you must go out in cold weather, it is best to wear several layers of loose fitting clothing. Wool is best for insulation.
In addition to a warm coat, it is critical to wear a hat, scarf, warm footwear and gloves, preferably mittens. This protects the head and the extremities that lose heat first. An umbrella and protective rainwear are necessary during rain and snow.
"When the temperature drops, please be diligent by checking on your elderly relatives, friends and neighbors particularly those who live alone," Dr. Walks added.
Residents who have difficulty paying heating bills during the winter are encouraged to contact their local utility company to register for heating payment assistance programs.
If anyone sees a homeless person in distress when the temperature drops below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, please call the Hypothermia Hotline at (800) 535-7252. Homeless individuals or families will be transported to shelter if desired or provided with blankets and warm liquids if they do not accept shelter.
Also, if you spot any pets in distress, call the Department of Healths Office of Animal Control at (202) 442-9220.