Carbon monoxide, hypothermia pose health risks

EAST NORRITON TWP., Pa. - February 6, 2014

But if those generators are not used correctly, the effects can be devastating and deadly.

Across the region, dozens of people were taken to local hospitals suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning, mostly due to improper use of generators.

But one family in New Garden Township, Chester County brought a charcoal grill inside their home.

This can be just as deadly. Five people from the home were rushed to the hospital, two of them initially unconscious.

"You should never, ever, operate any kind of device or piece of equipment inside that's going to generate exhaust, fumes, or smoke," says Robert Kagel, the deputy director of the Chester County Emergency Management.

If you use a generator, keep it at least 20 feet away from any building, and away from any open doors or windows.

Meanwhile inside the Emergency Room at Einstein Medical Center Montgomery, Dr. Robert Czincila says they've seen a few cases of hypothermia.

That occurs when your body temperature drops below 95 degrees.

It doesn't have to happen outside. It can happen to someone inside a home without power.

"If they're at home and the temperate is in the 50's because the heat is not working in the house, they can suffer insult from hypothermia," says Dr. Czincila.

It can only take one night in a 60-degree home for a frail older adult to develop mild hypothermia.

He says most at risk at the very old, the very young and anyone with a chronic illness, such as diabetes, hypothyroidism, and heart or kidney disease.

Shivering is an early sign your body is getting cold. If it escalates, shivering will stop.

"That's a concerning sign, because you have lost that regulation capability, to try to warm yourself up on your own," says Dr. Czincila.

"After that patients can have many different signs when they come to the Emergency Department, they can have an altered mental status," he adds.

Because of that mental confusion, people may not realize they're having a problem.

That's why it's so important to check on your neighbors, to make sure they're keeping warm.

Anyone without power should try to stay with friends or family, or go to a warming center.

Red Cross shelters can be found at: warming shelters.

Holy Redeemer Hospital, at 1602 Huntingdon Pike, Meadowbrook, Pa., is also serving as a warming station. In addition, residents can recharge personal electronics, and get access to the hospital's cafe for hot food.

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