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23 January 2017

New Research Highlights Need for Earlier Hypothermia Prevention Measures

‘Cold does Kill’ is a common phrase of warning, bellowed from the rooftops by every news outlet and health service each and every winter, but new research suggests that if preventative action was taken sooner, cold may kill a lot less.

This is according to a new study focused on the Lublin region of Poland, the results of which were published in the journal Weather. The data shows that the vast majority (approx. 70%) of documented cases of hypothermia actually occur between October and December, often well before local authorities start taking steps to prevent it. The study attributed this to “a lower level of adaptation of the human body to cold, as well as a lack of behavioural adjustment to the falling temperatures (i.e. unsuitable clothing, no heating, and delayed activities of relevant services regarding hypothermia prevention).” As is to be expected, the over-65 age group is highlighted as particularly vulnerable.

Perhaps unexpectedly, it is also stated that those who live in regions famed for bitterly cold temperatures are at less risk of developing hypothermia and other cold-related conditions, which again is put down to ‘behavioural patterns’.

All of this seems to suggest that, while we are perfectly capable of keeping the effects of the cold at bay and preventing many of these deaths, it is a lack of preparation that is proving to be the true killer. As a result, the study calls for preventative measures to be put in place as early as September; this means not only digging out your gloves, hats and scarves a little earlier than planned, but also earlier action on the part of health authorities.

The study’s recommendation on prevention reads as follows:

“It seems justified to apply hypothermia prevention measures earlier than is currently the case (at present, the threshold is air temperatures dropping below +5 °C). Such activities should involve, for example, public information on the threat, guidelines regarding clothing and home heating, preparation of a higher number of places in shelters, and paying special attention to persons aged above 60, particularly those living alone. This should help minimise or prevent exposure to cold (Vasconcelos et al., 2013). Nevertheless, long term housing improvement and financial aids for home heating remain the best means to prevent the adverse effects of cold weather on community health (Laaidi et al., 2013). The application of prevention strategies on personal, neighbourhood and building scales can prevent diseases and cold-weather mortality (Conlon et al., 2011). Excess mortality in winter due to weather conditions varies among European countries, so a cold warning system and public policies must be different in each country.”

Sam Bonson

Sam is an aspiring novelist with a passion for fantasy and crime thrillers. He is currently working as a content writer, journalist & editor in an attempt to expand his horizons.