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Experts offer cold weather safety tips

December 22, 2000

Experts offer cold weather safety tips



By KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI / Staff Writer


As temperatures continue to drop, area experts are advising people take precautions to keep themselves, their pets and homes safe.

During extended periods of cold weather, hypothermia is a danger, said Pamela Tainter-Causey of Maryland Department of Aging.

Hypothermia occurs when the body temperature drops to dangerously low levels from exposure to the cold, she said.

She said the elderly are susceptible to hypothermia because they have a slower metabolic rate, making it difficult for them to maintain a normal body temperature when exposed to cold weather.

Cold temperatures, improper clothing, wetness, fatigue, exhaustion, dehydration, poor diet, illnesses and medications can lead to hypothermia, said Tainter-Causey.

She said common symptoms include shivering, shallow breathing, poor attention span, weak pulse, slurred speech and a bluish tinge to the skin.

Those with hypothermia should move to a warmer location, replace all wet or cold clothes and wrap in warm blankets. Severe hypothermia requires medical attention, she said.

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People can avoid hypothermia by limiting their time outside, said Julia Burke, director of long-term care programs for Washington County Commission on Aging.

People can also learn to recognize early warning signs, wear insulated clothing, drink lots of fluids, avoid alcohol consumption and avoid excessive perspiration.

As harmful as cold temperatures can be to people, they also pose a risk to pets, according to Shelly Moore, executive director for the Humane Society of Washington County.

"If it's below freezing it's best to bring them in, even if it's the garage or basement," she said.

If people choose not to bring pets inside during extremely cold weather they are required by law to have shelter for the animal, she said.

For dogs it's best to have a dog house filled with straw, which dries quickly and lets animals burrow down into it for warmth, she said.

The dog house should be airtight, not too large and have an opening with a flap.

A water supply should also be monitored since it can freeze over and an animal won't know to break the ice, she said.

A basic way to tell if an animal can't take the cold is if it's shaking or shivering, she said. "Use your best judgment," she said.

Homeowners can help keep their heating bills lower during cold weather by taking a few preventive measures.

Rich Lohman, service manager for Larry and Sons, Inc., recommends sealing off drafty windows and other openings to keep heat inside.

Allegheny Power officials say insulating a home's ceiling or attic and replacing broken window glass, weather stripping and improperly fitting doors will prevent drafts.

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