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Canadian winters can be severe. It’s important to learn how to prepare for cold conditions and to avoid the potentially serious health effects of extreme cold exposure.

Who is at risk

Anyone who isn't dressed warmly is at risk, but some are more vulnerable to frostbite and hypothermia:

  • Infants and young children
  • The elderly
  • Outdoor workers
  • People with chronic medical conditions or underlying infections
  • People taking certain medications (including beta blockers)
  • Winter sport enthusiasts
  • Homeless persons and those lacking shelter, proper clothing, or food

How to prepare for cold weather

  • Listen to the weather forecast.
  • Dress warmly and wear appropriate clothing.
  • Find shelter.
  • Stay dry.
  • Keep moving.
  • Prepare your home by doing regular maintenance.
  • Avoid alcohol.
  • Watch for signs of frostbite and hypothermia.

Health risks of extreme cold

Frostbite

  • Can occur when temperatures drop below zero.
  • Can cause permanent damage (including loss of limbs) if not treated immediately.
  • Risk increases as the wind chill drops.  At a wind chill of -28ᵒC, exposed skin can freeze in 10 minutes.

Symptoms

The skin:

  • Initially starts to appear yellow or white but still feels soft to the touch
  • Tingles or burns
  • May turn pale, waxy, and hard to the touch, or go numb as frostbite gets more severe

At the first signs of frostbite:

  1. Protect the exposed skin.
  2. Get out of the cold.
  3. Warm the skin gradually using body heat (do not rub).
  4. Once warm, do not re-expose affected area to the cold.

Seek medical attention if the frostbite is serious (pale, waxy skin that is hard to the touch; affected area is numb).

Hypothermia

  • Occurs when the core body temperature drops too much to function normally.
  • Can lead to death. As the body loses heat, organs begin to shut down.

Signs of hypothermia include:

  • Numbness, shivering, confusion, weakness
  • Lips, ears, fingers, toes or other extremities turn blue
  • Mumbling, stumbling, and/or fumbling

How to treat hypothermia

  • Severe cases require immediate medical attention; call 9-1-1.

While waiting for help to arrive:

  • Find shelter.
  • Keep muscles moving.
  • Remove wet clothing and gradually warm the person.
  • Use warm blankets/dry clothing or reheat using skin-to-skin contact with another person.
  • Drink warm, sweet liquids.
  • Don't fight shivering, this is one of the ways your body increases its core temperature.
  • If the person is unconscious lay them down. Avoid shaking them or handling them roughly as they may have an arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat).

More information:

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A power failure can make food unsafe to eat. Without proper refrigeration or freezing, bacteria can grown and make you sick.

Reduce your risk of food poisoning with these tips:

  • Keep your freezer and fridge doors shut to maintain the cold temperature inside
  • A full freezer keeps food frozen for about 2 days. A half-full freezer keeps food frozen for 1 day.
  • A fridge keeps food cool for 4-6 hours without power.
  • If you have prescription medication stored in the fridge, call your healthcare provider to find out how to store it properly.

For a list of foods to throw out after two hours or more and more food safety tips, download our fact sheet: Food Safety During a Power Failure (PDF, 2 pages).

Enter the wouldurather contest for a chance to win cash prizes. All eligible contestants can get a free, 8-week supply of nicotine patch or gum. The contest is open to:

  • Registered students at publicly funded post-secondary institutions in Ontario wouldurather campaign image
  • Non-students between the ages of 18-29

There will be winners in each of these four categories:

  • Quit For Good: Regular smokers pledge to quit smoking and remain smoke-free
  • Keep The Count: Regular smokers pledge to reduce their smoking by 50%
  • Party Without The Smoke: Regular or social smokers pledge to refrain from smoking when drinking alcohol
  • Don't Start & Win: Non-smokers or ex-smokers pledge to continue to be smoke-free

Registration is open until January 26, 2014. The contest runs from January 27 to March 10.

More information:

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