UNDATED -- Your winter weather emergency kit is ready, the cupboards are full – but what about protecting yourself from weather-related illnesses or other health problems?
The Oklahoma Department of Health has advice for protecting yourself not just from the cold, but from getting colds and other infectious diseases during winter weather.
When people are closed up together in the family home or shelters, respiratory disease can be a problem. Be sure to cover your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing, and use good personal hygiene and hand-washing practices to reduce the risk of transmission.
If power outages are experienced, there's an increased chance for health problems from spoiled food, sewage back up and tainted water.
If you are using water you think might not be safe to drink or prepare food, try to boil the water vigorously for at least two minutes to prevent waterborne illnesses. Or purchase safe water ahead of time such as bottled water.
Don't skate, slide or sled on frozen ponds, creeks, rivers or lakes. Oklahoma temperatures rarely good cold enough to complete freeze recreational water.
If power is interrupted for more than four hours, take the following precautions with refrigerated food:
- Keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible.
- Discard any potentially hazardous foods such as meats, eggs, dairy products and leftovers that may have exceeded 41 degrees Fahrenheit. When in doubt, throw it out.
- Frozen foods in a freezer can normally be kept up to 48 hours without power. Again, the 41 degrees Fahrenheit rule applies. A frozen product that has thawed should not be refrozen-it should be used immediately or disposed of. Thawed foods that have not reached 41 degrees Fahrenheit can be cooked and consumed.
Watch what you eat – and drink
Eating high-energy, well-balanced meals help people stay warmer. Alcoholic beverages cause the body to lose heat more rapidly. Instead, drink warm, sweet beverages like hot chocolate or sweetened coffee or tea. Drink lots of fluids to avoid dehydration.
Carbon monoxide poisoning
Carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning cases increase as people try to stay warm. It's a highly poisonous gas produced by the burning of fuel like gasoline, natural gas, kerosene, charcoal or wood.
Unvented or faulty gas and kerosene appliances have the greatest potential to produce CO.
- Look at the color of the flame. A hot blue flame produces less CO and more heat than a flickering yellow flame. If you see yellow flames in your furnace or stove burner, it should be adjusted so that the flame is blue.
- Don't use an unvented gas or kerosene heater in closed spaces, especially sleeping areas.
- Don't use gas appliances such as an oven, range or clothes dryer to heat your home.
- Don't burn charcoal inside a house, garage, vehicle or tent for heating or cooking, even in a fireplace.
- Look for CO exposure symptoms including headache, dizziness, weakness, sleepiness, nausea and vomiting that can progress to disorientation, coma, convulsions and death.
- If you suspect CO poisoning, open doors and windows, turn off gas appliances, and go outside for fresh air. Call 911 emergency medical services in severe cases.
- To prevent residential fires, make sure that heaters, stoves, and fireplaces are at least three feet from anything that burns. Use screens in front of fireplaces, and do not leave children alone with space heaters.
- Never leave candles burning when you are not at home or while you are sleeping.
- If a heater uses fuel like propane or kerosene, use only that kind of fuel and add more fuel only when the heater is cool. Store all fuels outside in closed metal containers.
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