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Duke Physicians Offer Tips to Prevent Cold Weather Health and Home Safety Problems

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Duke Health News 919-660-1306

DURHAM, N.C. -- Very cold temperatures are forecast for
central North Carolina through the rest of the week, so
emergency medicine physicians at Duke University Hospital urge
area residents to consider the following tips to avoid health
problems and safety issues in their homes.

"While most people will feel chilled and know to get out of
the cold, elderly residents and some people with chronic
diseases may not feel the normal responses to cold weather,"
said Kathleen Clem, M.D., chief of emergency medicine at Duke.
"These are people who may not be aware their body temperature
is dropping, so they need to take particular care to protect
themselves."

Clem suggests that the elderly and people with chronic
illness should limit their time outdoors and wear multiple
layers of loose-fitting clothing to trap heat near the
body.

"Nearly half of a person's body heat is lost through the
head, so people should wear a hat while outdoors," she
added.

The last bout of severe winter weather -- an ice storm in
early December -- left more than a million residents without
heat or electricity for an extended period of time. While
weather of that magnitude is not expected, it is wise to heed
the following precautions from the Home Safety Council:

Carbon Monoxide (CO):

  • Avoid using a cooking stove to heat your home;
  • Never use a gas grill inside your home or in a closed
    garage;
  • Keep gas appliances properly adjusted and serviced;
  • Install at least one smoke alarm and CO alarm on every
    level of your home and near sleeping areas;
  • Have a trained professional inspect, clean and tune-up
    the central heating system and repair leaks.

Fireplaces and Wood stoves:

  • Burn only wood. Do not burn trash or cardboard as these
    items increase the risk of uncontrolled fires;
  • Inspect chimneys every year for cracks, blockages and
    leaks;
  • Keep all people and flammable objects, including
    wallpaper, bedding, clothing and pets, at least 36 inches
    from fireplaces and wood stoves;
  • Open flues when fireplaces are in use;
  • Hire a professional sweep to clean your chimney at least
    once a year to prevent creosote build-up.

Space heaters:

  • Turn off space heaters before leaving a room or going to
    sleep;
  • Supervise children and pets at all times when a portable
    space heater is in use;
  • Use proper fuel in kerosene space heaters;
  • Avoid using space heaters to dry flammable items such as
    clothing or blankets;
  • Keep all flammable objects at least three feet from space
    heaters.

Precautions for power outage - lighting sources and
perishable foods:

  • Stock up on batteries, flashlights, portable radios,
    canned foods, manual can openers, bottled water and
    blankets;
  • Use flashlights instead of candles to avoid a possible
    fire hazard;
  • Run water at a trickle to help prevent pipes from
    freezing and bursting if outside temperatures are below
    freezing for an extended period of time if your home does not
    have heat;
  • Store perishable food outside in the snow or in an
    unheated outside building if power goes out.

According to the Home Safety Council, 67 percent of American
households use gas, wood, kerosene, coal or fuel as their major
heating source. These heating sources, which release carbon
monoxide when burned, cause more than 100,000 medical visits
and 300 home poisoning deaths each year due to improper
equipment servicing or lack of precautionary detectors. The
Home Safety Council is a not-for-profit organization dedicated
to the prevention of and education about home injuries.

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