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updated: 12/18/2012 11:13 PM

Health dept. offers wintry weather safety tips

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Lake County Health Department

Winter is a great time of year for outdoor sports or sipping hot chocolate in front of a warm fire. But, winter can also be a time of illness and injury if people fail to take appropriate health and safety precautions. Following are some tips from the Lake County Health Department/Community Health Center on how to avoid some of winter's woes.

Colds

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Colds are the world's most common illness. More than 100 viruses can cause colds. While there is no vaccine to protect you, there are ways to lessen your chances of coming down with the illness. Keep the humidity up in your home (between 30 and 40%) since dry air dries out the mucous membranes in your nose and throat and causes them to crack, creating a place where cold viruses can enter your body. Wash your hands frequently and avoid contact with people who have colds. Build up your natural resistance by eating well, exercising and getting enough sleep.

The Flu

Influenza is an upper respiratory infection that can make persons of any age ill. Symptoms include fever, chills, cough and soreness, and aching in the back, arms and legs. Abdominal cramps, vomiting or diarrhea are not flu symptoms, although they can be present with flu because of a coincidental condition. In protecting yourself and your family, remember that hand washing is the first line of defense against the flu. Other good habits to help prevent the spread of any respiratory illnesses are to cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze, stay home when you are sick, and get a flu shot.

Hypothermia

Hypothermia can be fatal if not detected promptly and treated properly. It occurs when the body temperature drops to 95 degrees or below. A 3.6 degree drop from a normal body temperature of 98.6 degrees may seem trivial, but it's drastic for vital organs. The most common victims are older persons who have difficulty keeping themselves or their homes warm in cold weather. Senior citizens should take caution that they don't turn their thermostats down too low to save money. Infants less than 1 year of age are also at risk because they lose body heat more easily than adults, and cannot make enough body heat by shivering.

The condition can develop over a period of time. Even cool indoor temperatures of 60 degrees can eventually trigger hypothermia. Symptoms include shivering, drowsiness, slurred speech, hallucinations and slow and shallow breathing. If you notice these symptoms in a person, take his or her temperature. If it is 95 degrees or below, call a doctor or ambulance, or take the victim directly to the hospital.

Those who have inadequate heating at home should visit malls or other public places to

stay warm. As always, check on neighbors who live alone and never leave infants or pets alone in cold cars. When outdoors, be aware of the added effect of wind chill. For example, 20-degree air temperature combined with a 20 miles per hour wind, has the effect of 10 degrees below zero on the human body.

Frostbite

When spending long periods of time outdoors during cold weather, be alert for signs of frostbite. It initially occurs in the nose, ears, fingers and toes, and can happen at any temperature below 32 degrees. Frostbitten skin is whitish, and stiff and feels numb rather than painful. Children are especially susceptible to frostbite because they can become so engrossed in their play that they overlook discomfort. To prevent frostbite, wear hats that cover the ears, scarves or masks to cover the face, and several layers of clothing to trap body heat. Mittens are better than gloves. To treat frostbitten skin, do not rub the area, since friction can cause further skin damage. Seek medical attention immediately. Warm the affected parts of the body with warm water for 20 to 40 minutes. Wrap the frostbitten area in blankets, sweaters, etc.

Snow Shoveling

You should avoid shoveling snow unless you are in good physical condition. If you become breathless, stop, go indoors and warm up before continuing. Overexertion can cause heart attacks and lifting heavy snow can cause back ailments.

Winter Sports Safety

Lake County's numerous inland lakes are frequently used for skating and snowmobiling

during winter. If you skate on a lake or a pond, take safety precautions. Do not skate unless the ice has a uniform thickness of at least 4 inches. Have rescue devises, such as a rope, ladder and blankets on hand. Do not skate alone. If you are snowmobiling, do not travel on lakes or rivers without knowing the ice conditions. To be safe, there should be 8 inches of clear ice. While snowmobiling, also be aware that heavy or drifting snow can obscure fences, tree stumps and uneven ground. Also, be especially careful if a child is your passenger.

For more information on preparing for winter weather emergencies, visit: www.alertlakecounty.com.

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