Tips to remember during a winter emergency

Published 10:54 am Tuesday, December 18, 2018

With the weather dipping below freezing and snow finally hitting the region, it’s time we are all prepared in case of a weather emergency.

The state Department of Public Health highlights three areas — hypothermia, carbon-monoxide poisoning and unsafe food — for tips so Kentuckians can manage without help for at least three days.

Hypothermia happens when your body loses heat faster than it can produce heat, causing a dangerously low body temperature. It is often caused by immersion in cold water, but can also be a result of exposure to extremely cold temperatures.

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If untreated, hypothermia can affect the brain and even lead to heart and lung failure.

The best ways to prevent hypothermia, include wearing appropriate clothing, avoiding consuming alcohol if outdoors, which can speed the loss of heat from the body, and avoiding activities that cause excessive sweat.

When it comes to carbon monoxide, health officials warn that using alternative heating sources like portable generators, kerosene heaters, propane gas stoves and ovens heated with gasoline can lead to carbon-monoxide poisoning.

Carbon monoxide is an odorless, invisible gas produced when gasoline, natural gas, propane, kerosene and other fuels are not completely burned during combustion. Breathing in carbon monoxide prevents the body from using oxygen normally, and can result in death.

The best ways to avoid carbon-monoxide poisoning are by installing battery-operated carbon-monoxide detectors in your home, not using a generator or other gasoline/ charcoal-burning device inside your home, not running a car or truck inside a garage attached to your house, even if you leave the door open, and not burning anything in a stove or fireplace that isn’t properly vented.

Often an afterthought is food after when power outages occur in the winter, but food safety is a necessity.

The symptoms of foodborne illness include vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain and flu-like symptoms such as fever, headache and body aches. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says foodborne illness usually occurs within one to three days of eating the contaminated food, but can also occur within 20 minutes or up to six weeks later.

The best way to insure food safety is to make sure you have appliance thermometers in your refrigerator and freezer. Refrigerated foods should be safe as long as power is out for no more than four hours. And if the thermometer in the freezer reads 41 degrees Fahrenheit or below, or the food still contains ice crystals, the food is safe and may be refrozen.

However, throw out any perishable food in your refrigerator, such as meat, poultry, lunch meats, fish, dairy products, eggs and any prepared or cooked foods that have been above 41 degrees Fahrenheit for four hours or more. Fresh fruits and vegetables are safe as long as they are still firm and have no evidence of mold or sliminess.

Other advice includes having about three days of non-perishable food on hand in case of an emergency, refill medications before the bottle is empty during the winter months, and to make sure to have working flashlights in the home.

“Remember, the first 72 is on you,” said Doug Hogan, spokesman for the Cabinet for Health and Family Services.

And by remembering these tips, there’s a better chance of surviving a winter emergency. All it takes is being prepared.

The Richmond Register