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Cold poses health hazard

January 13, 2003|by ASHLEY GORDON

ashleyg@herald-mail.com

After Thursday's unseasonable high of 56 degrees, the National Weather Service predicts much colder weather to come.

Temperatures in the low 30s are predicted for the weekend, and Monday's high is expected to be in the mid 30s with possible rain or snow, according to the National Weather Service forecast.

Protecting yourself from the cold is important because of the risk of hypothermia, according to a Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene press release.

Older people and the young are the most susceptible to hypothermia, said Dr. Thomas Gilbert of Washington County Hospital.

"Even a heating problem in an elderly person's home can cause hypothermia," Gilbert said.

He said symptoms can include chills, confusion, nausea and vomiting.

John Hammond, public relations officer of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said other symptoms are "uncontrollable shivering, pale skin, numbness, fatigue and poor circulation."

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To prevent hypothermia, Gilbert said, people must dress appropriately at all times, which means wearing warm clothes, coats, hats and gloves.

Infants should wear hats at all times during the colder months since their heads account for most of the surface area of their bodies, and 50 percent of the body's heat is lost through the head, he said.

People who are in the most danger of hypothermia are those who are inappropriately dressed and stay outside for a long time, according to state health department's press release.

Homeless people fall into this category, and they have the most problems adapting to the cold, Gilbert said.

He said homeless shelters are usually closed during the day, so homeless people can develop hypothermia from being outside all day.

The REACH Cold Weather Shelter sets up shelters in local churches that are open to adults Monday through Saturday from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. and on Sunday from 3 p.m. to 7 a.m.

Theresa Shoemaker, coordinator of services for REACH, said the operators of the shelters had difficulty housing as many as 40 people a day during the unusually cold weather in mid-December. The number has decreased to about 30 people per day, and most are new, Shoemaker said.

Heather Burns, supervisor of the domestic shelter operated by CASA - Citizens Assisting and Sheltering the Abused - said all of the local shelters are overwhelmed. The 40-bed CASA shelter houses 12 to 13 homeless families per day, Burns said.

The community can help by donating clothing to any of the local shelters sponsored by REACH, CASA and the Salvation Army.

For information about local homeless shelters or to help, call Vicki Sadehvandi or Heather Burns of CASA at 301-739-8975 or Terri Baker of REACH at 301-733-2371.

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