Maryland reports first death due to cold weather
Health experts remind residents to watch out for hypothermia and carbon monoxide poisoning
As the state reported this season’s first cold-related death last week, local health officials ask residents to watch out for hypothermia, frostbite and carbon monoxide poisoning.
The first hypothermia-related death this fall was a Garrett County man who was older than 65, according to the Maryland Department of Health.
Last winter, Maryland had 61 cold-related deaths, nearly doubling the number of the previous year, according to the state’s health department. Among all deaths, 16 of them were thought to be homeless. The Garrett County man who died this year was not homeless.
In Southern Maryland, St. Mary’s had one cold-related death last season while Charles and Calvert had none.
As winter nears and temperatures are expected to drop, health officials say now is the time to take steps to stay warm and prepare for cold-related hazards such as hypothermia, frostbite and carbon monoxide poisoning.
Hypothermia is often caused by exposure to cold weather or immersion in cold water. It occurs when the body temperature drops below 95 degrees from a normal temperature of about 98.6 degrees.
Hypothermia can occur even when temperatures are 40 or 50 degrees outside if it’s windy or rainy, which can contribute to heat loss, said Greg Ford, public health emergency planner at the St. Mary’s County Health Department.
Warning signs of hypothermia include shivering, exhaustion, drowsiness, having trouble with speech and difficulty manipulating things with the hands.
Frostbite is the other cold-related condition health officials want people to keep in mind. Caused by freezing of body tissue, it occurs when skin temperature falls below the freezing point of 32 degrees. In severe cases, frostbite can lead to amputation.
The skin turns white or grayish yellow, and people can feel numbness or clumsiness, according to Rebecca Hazel, public health emergency planner at the Calvert County Health Department.
When frostbite happens, Ford said to immerse affected areas in comfortable, warm water to slowly raise the tem-
perature or put on basic gloves or a warm blanket.
Hazel warned against using heating pads to treat frostbite because skin can be burned going from extreme cold to heat.
The third lurking danger in the winter that health officials are concerned about is carbon monoxide poisoning.
Produced by malfunctioning gas furnaces, gasoline engines, stoves, generators, lanterns and charcoal or wood burning, the colorless, odor-
less gas can cause severe illnesses and even death.
“The danger of carbon monoxide is you don’t know anything is wrong until it’s too late,” Ford said.
One thing people tend to do on cold winter mornings is to warm up their cars in closed garages. This can be dangerous because exhaust fumes from the cars can make their way into the home. When people heat up their cars, Ford suggests to do it in the driveway or have the main garage door open.
Ford also recommends families install carbon monoxide detectors in their home, which can be a cheap but potentially life-saving investment.
Donna Thomas, director of emergency preparedness and response at the Charles County Health Department, said people should also watch out for fires that can be caused by space heaters, faulty extensions or cords.
Health experts remind residents to never use an oven or gas stove to heat their home.
Marylanders can call 211 for housing and energy resources. For more information on cold-related resources, visit https:// preparedness. health. mar yland. gov/ Pages/ resources_ cold. aspx.