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Officials say cold may have been a factor in deaths

January 29, 2003|by MARLO BARNHART

marlob@herald-mail.com

Official state figures don't list any cold weather fatalities in Washington County, but local officials say the recent frigid temperatures may have played a role in the deaths of two men.

Investigators learned Tuesday that the cold may have been a contributing factor in the death of a North Carolina man whose body was found along the railroad tracks in Williamsport a day earlier.

"The state medical examiner said there weren't enough injuries to indicate he had been struck by a train," said Sgt. Roy Harsh of the Washington County Sheriff's Department.

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The injuries on the body included minor cuts and bruises, Harsh said.

"It's a good possibility that the cold temperatures led to his death," Harsh said.

The identity of the man, who was dressed in very lightweight clothing, was being withheld because of difficulty finding family members.

Dr. Tom Gilbert, director of the Washington County Hospital emergency room, said a man in his 60s was taken in with symptoms of hypothermia earlier this month. That man apparently had been found outside but had been living in his truck, Gilbert said.

"He lived for several days and then he died," Gilbert said. The official cause of death was most likely not listed as hypothermia, he said, which occurs when the body temperature falls below 95 degrees Fahrenheit.

Across Maryland, seven deaths are being blamed on hypothermia, according to the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. They include that of a 42-year-old Frederick man, three Baltimore residents, two men from Montgomery and Prince George's counties, and an Anne Arundel County man.

During the recent cold snap, Gilbert said he recalls seeing about six cases of hypothermia at Washington County Hospital, mostly in older people.

"It's very easy to be harmfully exposed to the cold," Gilbert said. "People should always dress properly when they go out, for instance, in case they have car trouble."

Symptoms of hypothermia include uncontrollable shivering, numbness, fatigue, poor circulation, disorientation, slurred speech and skin that is cold, pale, bluish or puffy.

Frostbite refers to actual freezing and subsequent destruction of body tissue, which is likely to occur any time skin temperature gets below 32 degrees Fahrenheit. The areas most likely to freeze are toes, fingers, ears, cheeks and the tip of the nose.

Symptoms of frostbite include gradual numbness, hardness and paleness of the affected area, pain and tingling or burning following warming and change of skin color to purple.

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