Tag Archives: cold

Outdoor workers, people without housing especially vulnerable to severe cold

Photo by Buzz Hoffman via Flickr

With much of the country feeling the “polar vortex” and some of the coldest temperatures seen in 20 years in some places, reporters may be called upon to write about health – and death – in cold weather.

Hypothermia is the unintentional lowering of the body’s core temperature below 95º F. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, common risk factors for hypothermia include exposure to cold while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, altered mental status and immersion in cold water. Other factors can include advanced age, chronic medical conditions, substance abuse and homelessness.

The CDC has some winter weather health and safety tips to help people protect themselves from frostbite, hypothermia, carbon monoxide poisoning, chainsaw mishaps and more. Here are some other general resources: Continue reading

Reports on cold-weather morbidity, mortality

Always one to stay on top of the latest news trends, Poynter’s Al Tompkins takes on the extremely cold weather much of the nation has been experiencing. Tompkins includes some relevant studies and data sets from the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, in a bulleted list at the very end. Here, we’ll take a slightly deeper look at some of Tompkins’ selections.

Carbon Monoxide Poisonings Associated with Snow-Obstructed Vehicle Exhaust Systems — Philadelphia and New York City, January 1996 (MMWR 1996; 45(01);1-3.)

According to the review, “Most of these poisonings occurred among children and elderly persons and resulted from exposures in idling automobiles with exhaust pipes blocked by snow.” During one two-day stretch, 21 people who had been found unconscious in running cars were brought to the Jacobi Medical Center in New York. In that spirit, the investigators look at the individual cases of a 4-year-old girl (left in the car because her family thought she was napping), and two older men. In all cases, their primary mistake seems to have been in starting cars surrounded by deep snow without making any attempt to remove the snow first.


Photo by Buzz Hoffman via Flickr

Snow-Blower Injuries — Colorado, New York (MMWR 1983;32(6):77-78.)

The takeaway from this article? Using your hands to clear a snowblower’s clogged exit chute is probably not a good idea.

Public Health Impact of a Snow Disaster (MMWR 1982;31(51):695-696.)

A review of studies related to 1978 storm in New England found that, during the blizzard, mortality rates didn’t increase significantly (though a third of the deaths that did happen were classified as storm-related), and that emergency room visits declined to less than half their normal levels. Hospitals also had supply problems because they could not discharge patients.

To solve these problems, the authors recommend that officials ask folks not to drive during storms (and to bring emergency supplies if they do), and to create a “rumor clearinghouse” to investigate reported hazards and outbreaks. They also suggest that overcrowded hospitals can use emergency vehicles to bring discharged patients home.

Unintentional Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Following a Winter Storm — Washington, January 1993 (MMWR 1993; 42(06);109-111.)

Most of the 44 patients studied were members of ethnic minority groups, and half didn’t speak English. In 65 percent of the cases, the cause was burning charcoal briquettes. All those incidents, the study noted, involved racial/ethnic minorities.

Work-Related Injuries Associated with Falls During Ice Storms, January 1994 — National Institutes of Health (MMWR 1995; 44(49);920-2.)

The review found that, during ice storm season, workers tend to fall outdoors more often than usual. Slightly more interesting is that the workers in this study were NIH employees on NIH campuses.