Winter warning: Hypothermia Kills Hundreds Each Year, CDC reports

December 11, 1998

ATLANTA (CNN) -- Cold weather kills more than 700 people a year in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported this week.

The government agency said that between 1979 and 1995, 12,368 Americans died of hypothermia, about three deaths per million people.

Hypothermia occurs when the body core temperature falls below 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 degrees Celsius). Symptoms can include extreme shivering, numbness in limbs, fatigue, shallow breathing, low blood pressure and impaired mental ability.

The condition can be caused by long exposure to cold or windy conditions or prolonged contact with water or metal, which easily conduct cold.

Tips for avoiding exposure hypothermia:

Follow the weather reports if you intend to be outside for extended periods. Realize that conditions may be worse than forecast.

Dress properly.

Wear layered, insulated clothing that doesn't retain moisture (polypropylene or wool) and a windproof outer layer. Always carry raingear. If possible, avoid going out in storms.

Keep your clothes dry. Wet clothes lose their insulating effect and combined with wind, can chill you.

Wear a warm hat or hood -- 30 percent to 50 percent of body heat is lost through the head.

Avoid overexertion and sweating. Sweating increases heat loss through evaporation.

If you get cold, find or make shelter. Build a fire if possible.

Increase your intake of fluids and food. Carry high-calorie foods like candy bars and trail mix when going out in questionable weather.

But avoid caffeine and alcohol; they steal your heat. Alcohol may make you feel warmer but it dilates blood vessels close to the surface of the skin, increasing heat loss.

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