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Extra care needed in very cold weather

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With the forecast for several more days of unusually cold weather throughout much of the province, the BC Coroners Service is urging everyone to take special care of themselves - and each other.

Hypothermia can be a killer for anyone, but the elderly, frail and mobility-challenged may be particularly at-risk if in circumstances where their core body temperature dips. The BC Coroners Service reminds everyone that this can happen even in a residence or other building if the outdoor temperature is cold enough and the heating system for the building fails for some reason.

Especially in more rural and remote areas, neighbours are urged to watch out for each other and ensure everyone has shelter, warmth, water and food during the cold snap.

"If you know your neighbours are elderly, take the time to give them a call or drop by, just to make sure they are coping," said Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe.

Precautions should also be taken when outdoors with the windchill factor, which combines the effects of temperature and wind, taken into account. Getting wet is also a factor that greatly increases the risk for hypothermia, as is impairment with alcohol.

Another heightened risk in cold weather is fire or carbon monoxide poisoning, especially if people turn to makeshift arrangements to try to maintain warmth in their homes.

FOR EVERYONE:

* Plan ahead. Develop a cold-weather safety plan in advance to ensure safety concerns are addressed when the weather forecast is expecting very cold temperatures or significant windchill. Think about how much you need to be outdoors and what precautions you are going to take there, and also how you are going to ensure your home remains warm and safe with running water and an adequate food supply.

OUTDOORS:

* Dress in layers with a wind-resistant outer layer. Wear a hat plus mitts or insulated gloves. Keep your face warm with a scarf, balaclava or the like.

* Stay dry. Being wet greatly increases the risk of hypothermia. If you do get wet, find shelter and change into dry clothing as soon as possible.

* If possible, limit your time outdoors in times of extremely low temperatures or windchill.

INDOORS:

* Do not assume that just being indoors is enough to eliminate the risk of hypothermia. An unheated or poorly heated residence or building can still lead to hypothermia, especially for the elderly or infirm.

* If you are in a cool or cold building, wear extra clothes, such as longjohns made for winter weather. Wear socks and slippers, and an extra sweater. A cap or hat helps prevent loss of body heat.

* If it's cold at night, wear longjohns under your pajamas, and put extra covers on the bed.

* If your home is heated by a wood stove, ensure you have plenty of wood available before a forecasted snowstorm or prolonged cold spell.

* If you are using a space heater for extra warmth, place it on a hard, level surface and keep anything flammable at least three feet away.

* Never use a stove or oven to heat your home, and never operate a generator inside a home.

Further information about winter safety may be found at websites such as those of the Red Cross and Canada Safety Council.

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