Extreme Cold, Snow Pose Health Risks for Missourians

| January 6, 2014
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With much of the state enduring a blast of Arctic air and wind chills dipping far below zero, doctors warn that this is no ordinary winter weather, even for the heartiest Missourians.

According to Dr. Kathryn Imberg, in these conditions, unprotected skin can become frostbitten in just five minutes of exposure, and the consequences can be permanent. These might include “severe tissue damage that is similar to burns; some muscle and bone involvement, which can cause tissue death and possible amputation; chronic scarring.”

Imberg said frostbite begins with numbness or tingling and progresses to a loss of feeling in the affected areas. She said the feet, hands and face, including eyes, are the most susceptible. Anyone who suspects being frostbitten should seek immediate medical attention.

The best way to prevent frostbite or other cold-weather-related issues such as hypothermia is to stay indoors, but Imberg said those who must be outside need to dress in multiple layers and avoid using alcohol or tobacco. She urged everyone to do whatever it takes to find some sort of shelter until the cold snap breaks.

“There are homeless shelters and churches that accept people from outdoors. The hospitals are always warm. Just find a warm place to go,” she said.

Volunteers from several organizations that serve the homeless have been out searching for people living on the streets, under bridges, and in tents, and taking them to local shelters.

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