PO Box 360
Trenton, NJ 08625-0360

For Release:

Mary E. O'Dowd, M.P.H.

For Further Information Contact:
Office of Communications
(609) 984-7160

Department of Health Urges Residents to Take Steps to Protect Their Health During Extreme Cold Weather

With temperatures expected to drop to record lows over the next several days, Department of Health Commissioner Mary E. O'Dowd reminds New Jersey residents to take precautions to protect their health during the extreme cold. 

"Exposure to extremely cold temperatures--even for a short time-can cause serious medical conditions," said Commissioner O'Dowd. "Dressing warmly and preparing emergency kits for your home and car are the best ways to stay healthy and avoid injury during extreme cold weather. Also, I remind everyone to check on elderly neighbors and relatives to ensure their well-being, including having proper heat during this dangerous cold stretch." 

The most serious cold-related illness is hypothermia, a drop in normal body temperature from 98.6 degrees to 95 or lower that requires emergency medical care. It can be especially dangerous to the very young, older adults and individuals with chronic medical conditions.

At the earliest stages of hypothermia, violent shivering is the most noticeable symptom. As the body temperature continues to drop, symptoms will change. Shivering decreases and stops; speech is distorted or slurred; behavior is irrational; drowsiness or numbness occurs; pulse weakens and there is shortness of breath and unconsciousness. 

Hypothermia can be fatal if not treated. If you notice signs of hypothermia in someone, seek medical attention immediately. While waiting for assistance, you can:

  • Prevent further heat loss by moving the person from the cold area
  • Remove wet or damp clothing and replace it with dry clothing
  • Slowly give the person warm liquids if (s)he is conscious
  • Do not warm the person further. If the arms and legs are warmed before the chest and abdomen, the person could go into shock

 Other advice for avoiding cold-related illness and injury:

  • Dress in layers while outdoors and remember to wear a hat to help retain body heat
  • If you get wet, either from heavy sweating while working or from rain or snow, change into dry clothes as soon as possible
  • Eat well and drink adequate fluids during periods of cold stress
  • Avoid drinking alcohol since it can accelerate the loss of body heat
  • If you will be outdoors in the sun for an extended period, remember to use sunscreen and sunglasses, particularly if you are at higher altitudes
  • Stock your car with emergency gear, such as cell phone, jumper cables, flashlight, sand or kitty litter for extra traction, ice scraper, small shovel, and flares and other warning devices
  • For long car trips, carry food, water, extra blankets and required medications

To stay safe indoors, residents should make sure heating systems are working properly. It is a good idea to have heating systems inspected each year. Tenants and homeowners with heating issues need to call their landlord and/or public utility for assistance.

Heat your home safely:

  • Keep anything that can burn at least three feet away from heating equipment, like the furnace, fireplace, wood stove, or portable space heater
  • Have a three-foot "kid-free zone" around open fires and space heaters
  • Never use your oven to heat your home
  • Remember to turn portable heaters off when leaving the room or going to bed
  • Test smoke alarms monthly

For a list of warming centers, visit the NJ 211 website: www.nj211.org/images/codeblue.pdf

For more cold weather information, visit www.bt.cdc.gov/disasters/winter/ or the department's web site at www.nj.gov/health/er.

Last Reviewed: 2/13/2015