Manitoba Health, Seniors and Active Living reminds Manitobans of health concerns related to colder temperatures.
Exposure to cold can result in health problems such as frostbite or hypothermia, which can be life-threatening. Anyone who isn’t dressed for the cold weather is at risk, although health risks are greatest for:
- older adults;
- infants and young children;
- people with chronic illnesses, such as heart and lung conditions;
- newcomers to Canada;
- people who are homeless or transient;
- people living in homes that are poorly insulated;
- outdoor workers; and
- outdoor sports enthusiasts.
Check on neighbours, friends and older family members regularly, especially those who are ill or living alone. The health effects of cold can be reduced by:
- dressing in multiple layers and covering exposed skin;
- wearing wool, silk or polypropylene inner layers of clothing (they hold more body heat than cotton);
- wearing waterproof and windproof outer layers;
- choosing warm mittens instead of gloves;
- never leaving infants and young children unattended, and ensuring they are dressed appropriately;
- having a buddy when enjoying winter weather activities who can offer immediate assistance in an emergency;
- avoiding alcohol consumption before going out in the cold. Alcohol increases the risk of hypothermia by contributing to heat loss.
Watch for symptoms of cold-related illness such as:
- discoloured skin (whitish, yellow, grey, or blistered);
- tingling, burning sensation, or numbness to exposed areas;
- uncontrollable shivering, drowsiness or exhaustion, confusion, or slurred speech. Infants may have very low energy and bright red cold skin. A person with severe hypothermia may be unconscious and may not seem to have a pulse or to be breathing.
If emergency medical care is needed for someone who may have frostbite or hypothermia, move him/her to a warm place if you can, and call for help. Take action to stay safe in extreme cold:
- check the weather report before going outside and prepare accordingly.
- warm up by taking regular breaks in heated buildings such as libraries and malls.
- bring pets and other animals inside or to sheltered areas with non-frozen drinking water.
- reschedule outdoor activities and/or limit time outdoors if severe weather is forecast.
- stay on the approved paths when participating in outdoor activities.
- check road conditions before you go out by calling Manitoba Highways at 511 or visiting www.manitoba511.ca/en/
- winterize your vehicle by keeping your gas tank full, using winter tires and keeping a well-stocked winter safety kit in your car. Visit: https://www.getprepared.gc.ca/index-eng.aspx.
- if stranded, remain in your vehicle if possible until help is available.
- avoid driving or traveling by car in bad weather or when roads are very slippery.
- take action to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. Have a properly installed carbon monoxide detector in your home and make sure to properly maintain any fuel burning equipment. For more information on carbon monoxide safety visit: http://www.gov.mb.ca/health/publichealth/environmentalhealth/indoor.html#co2.
- keep your home warm with a properly installed and maintained heat source. If you are unable to heat your home during the winter:
- dress in layers, as you would if you were outdoors.
- cover yourself with a blanket and put your feet up. The air is colder near the floor.
- try not to sit for more than an hour. Get up and walk around; consume a hot drink. Move your arms and legs and/or wiggle your fingers and toes while sitting.
- consider staying with a friend or family member. Find out if your community has a plan for warming shelters and how they can be accessed.
- for more information on cold and health, call Health Links–Info Santé at 204-788-8200 or 1-888-315-9257 (toll-free) or visit: www.gov.mb.ca/health/publichealth/environmentalhealth/cold.html
- weather forecasts are available from Environment and Climate Change Canada at 204-983-2050 or at www.weatheroffice.gc.ca/canada_e.html.