State public health director offers health information for those in southern Illinois impacted by winter storm
What people need to know about heating, frostbite/hypothermia
and food safety
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – As people in southern Illinois begin recovering from the recent winter storm, Dr. Damon T. Arnold, state public health director, is reminding those who have lost power about important health and safety information.
For people still needing to use alternative sources of heat, IDPH has the following reminders:
- Any heater that uses wood, coal, natural gas or kerosene produces carbon monoxide (CO), so adequate ventilation is essential.
- Never use a generator indoors, even with open doors or windows
- Do not use charcoal or gas grills indoors
- Do not use a gas oven to heat your home
You cannot see or smell carbon monoxide, but at high levels it can kill a person in minutes. Symptoms of mild to moderate CO poisoning include headaches, dizziness, nausea and lethargy. Higher levels of CO exposure can cause fainting, confusion and collapse and if exposure continues, death can result.
Without heat, exposure to cold temperatures can lead to frostbite and/or hypothermia. Parts of the body most commonly affected by frostbite include the face, ears, hands and feet. Frostbitten skin is whitish and stiff, and the area will feel numb rather than painful. To treat frostbite, warm the affected part of the body gradually. Wrap the frostbitten area in blankets, sweaters, coats, etc. and seek medical attention immediately. Do not rub frostbitten areas because the friction can damage the tissue.
Hypothermia is caused by a drop in body temperature to 95 degrees Fahrenheit (F) or less and can be fatal if not detected promptly and treated properly. The condition usually develops over a period of time, anywhere from a few days to several weeks. Even mildly cool indoor temperatures of 60 degrees to 65 degrees F can trigger hypothermia. Infants and the elderly are particularly at risk of hypothermia. Signs of hypothermia include:
- Slurred speech
- Weak pulse
- Slow heartbeat
- Very slow, shallow breathing
Do not give a hypothermia victim a hot shower or bath because it could cause shock and do not try to treat hypothermia at home. The condition should be treated in a hospital.
Food safety is also a concern when there is a power outage. The IDPH has the following recommendations to determine whether food is safe to consume.
A fully stocked freezer will keep food frozen for two days, if the door remains closed. A freezer half full can keep foods frozen about a day. Another option is to buy dry ice. However, it should not be touched with bare hands because it freezes everything it touches. Twenty-five pounds of dry ice will hold a 10-cubic-foot freezer below freezing temperature for three to four days. Because dry ice also gives off carbon dioxide, the freezer door should be left open a short time before examining food. If you are unsure how long the electricity has been off, take extra precautions. If food is still “cold-to-the-touch,” it may be cooked and eaten immediately, or refrozen.
When a refrigerator is without power, food inside can stay safely cold for four to six hours, depending on how warm it is in the kitchen. The temperature of a refrigerator should be kept at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below. Adding block ice to the refrigerator will help keep foods cold, but as the ice melts, the water may saturate food packages. Consequently, food packages should be kept away from ice as it melts. Dairy products, meat, fish and poultry should be consumed as soon as possible after the power goes out since they cannot be stored safely at room temperature. However, fruits and vegetables can be kept at room temperature until there are obvious signs of spoilage such as mold, slime and wilting. With good ventilation, vegetables last longer at room temperature.
To dispose of foods that have gone bad, place them in tied garbage bags and in covered garbage containers. If you do not have garbage bags, wrap the food in newspaper and store in tight-lid garbage cans until pick up. These steps will help eliminate insect and rodent infestations. When stored outside, plastic bags, paper bags or bale units containing garbage must be stored in a manner inaccessible to insects and rodents.
Additional safety information is available on the state’s Ready Illinois Web site at www.Ready.Illinois.gov.