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State Health Officials Encourage Precautions, Remind North Carolinians of Services During Wintry Weather

Raleigh

With temperatures dipping significantly across the state and snow on its way for much of the state, North Carolina health officials are encouraging residents to take health and safety precautions as winter arrives.

"Rain, snow and cold temperatures can create challenges for everyone’s safety and health, especially for the most vulnerable people," said State Health Director Elizabeth Tilson, M.D. "Taking a few simple prevention measures and knowing what local resources are available can really help those who need it during the winter."

Cold weather safety

Cold temperatures can cause the body to lose heat faster than it is produced, which can lead to serious health problems such as frostbite and hypothermia. Last winter, there were 1,477 emergency department visits in North Carolina for cold weather-related illnesses. Populations at highest risk of these health problems include people 65 and older, infants, children, people who spend time outdoors for long periods of time, and people who drink alcohol in excess or use illicit drugs. To protect against these health problems:

  • Wear warm, dry clothing and make sure body parts most often affected by frostbite are covered (nose, ears, toes, cheeks, chin, fingers)
  • Limit time outside during cold temperatures and seek shelter in a warm, dry place
  • Check on others who might be at risk for cold weather-related illness
  • Seek care if hypothermia or frostbite is suspected

For more information, including the signs and symptoms of frostbite and hypothermia, visit: www.cdc.gov/disasters/winter/staysafe/index.html.

Carbon monoxide safety

In 2017, 227 people required emergency department care for unintentional, non-fire related carbon monoxide poisoning in North Carolina. To prevent carbon monoxide poisoning:

  • Never use a gas-powered generator or other fuel-burning appliances indoors or in the garage
  • Never use charcoal grills or propane stoves indoors, even in a fireplace
  • Never use a gas oven to heat a home, even for a short amount of time
  • Install a carbon monoxide alarm with an Underwriters Laboratory UL™ listing on each level of a home and near all sleeping areas. Carefully follow the directions to ensure proper alarm placement and check the batteries regularly.
  • Replace alarms more than seven years old or when end-of-service indicator chirps
  • Evacuate and call 9-1-1 if a carbon monoxide alarm sounds

For more information on how to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning, visit http://epi.publichealth.nc.gov/oee/a_z/co.html.

Food safety without power

When power is lost, all refrigerated and frozen food should be evaluated before being used or refrozen. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration offers the following food safety information for anticipated power outages:

Frozen, partially thawed food is safe to cook or refreeze if it still contains ice crystals or has not risen above 41 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep refrigerated foods at or below 41 degrees Fahrenheit and frozen food at or below zero degrees Fahrenheit.

Keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to maintain the cold temperature. A refrigerator will keep food cold for about four hours if it is unopened. A full freezer will keep the temperature for approximately 48 hours (24 hours if it is half full) and the door remains closed.

Low-income services

For many of North Carolina’s most vulnerable residents, meeting the expense of household heating during the cold of winter may be a challenge. County departments of social services are accepting applications for the state's Low-Income Energy Assistance Program, which provides one-time federal heating payment assistance to those who qualify. The program provided approximately $3 million to help more than 128,000 households pay their heating bills from December 2017 to March 2018.

Funds are available until March 31 or until funds are exhausted. County departments of social services can provide more information on eligibility and how to apply: https://www.ncdhhs.gov/divisions/dss/local-county-social-services-offices.

Additionally, The federally funded Crisis Intervention Program has approximately $30 million available to families who need emergency help heating their homes. The program helps households with low incomes who have a life-threatening or health-related emergency due to a lack of heating. Each household is individually evaluated, and if determined eligible for assistance, payments are made directly to the household’s heating vendor. 
 
To apply, individuals should contact their county department of social services.

Flu season
 
So far this flu season, there have been five flu-related deaths reported to the Division of Public Health. Flu can be a serious illness, especially for adults older than 65, children younger than 5, pregnant women and those with certain medical conditions like asthma, diabetes or heart disease.

DHHS encourages vaccinations for everyone 6 months and older, and the following precautions to protect against the spread of flu and other viruses during the winter months:

  •  Stay home when sick until fever-free for at least 24 hours
  • Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue and then discard the tissue promptly
  • Wash hands frequently, preferably with soap and water

For more information on how to prepare for winter-related events, download the free ReadyNC app, or visit www.readync.org for real-time traffic and weather conditions, open shelters and items needed in emergency supply kits.