Friday, December 7, 2012

Hurricane Sandy: Hypothermia and Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

300% Increase in Carbon Monoxide Poisoning and Hypothermia

Even though power and heat have largely been restored to residents of New York City after Hurricane Sandy, the numbers of people suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning and hypothermia is 300% higher than it has been in the past at this time of year.

12,000 Unheated Apartments post Hurricane Sandy

It is estimated that there are approximately 12,000 people living in unheated apartments. Cold weather can lead to aggravation of lung and heart diseases as well as triggering depression and anxiety. Poison control centers and emergency rooms are reporting far higher incidences of carbon monoxide poisoning than anticipated, as indicated by visits to the emergency room. Aged and disabled residents in unheated homes that were unable to leave due to nonfunctioning phones or elevators had to wait until emergency responders were able to rescue them.

Carbon Monoxide (CO) Poisoning

Carbon monoxide (CO) gas is colorless, odorless and is highly toxic and even fatal. Because red blood cells absorb CO more quickly than oxygen, if there is a high quantity of CO in the air, oxygen can be completely displaced in the bloodstream by CO, causing damage to the tissues. People with compromised respiratory systems, infants, the elderly or heart conditions are especially vulnerable to CO poisoning. Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are dizziness, nausea, headache and loss of consciousness. Unless CO poisoning is suspected, it is difficult condition to diagnose because the symptoms are similar to numerous other illnesses. Many die from CO poisoning in their sleep without experiencing any symptoms.


Hypothermia is caused by persistent exposure to cold temperatures in air or water. Preliminary hypothermia symptoms include blue grey skin color, particularly in lips and fingernails, lack of balance, slurred speech, confusion, persistent shivering and numb hands and feet. Late stage hypothermia symptoms are loss of consciousness, stiff muscles and the body becoming cold to the touch. If the body temperature drops below 90 degrees, shivering may stop. Untreated hypothermia can be fatal, but healthy adults and children can make a complete recovery in a relatively short period of time. Infants, the elderly and the infirm generally take longer to recover. The highest number of hypothermia cases was the result of people submerged in freezing water waiting for rescue.

Preparing for the Winter

As the winter season progresses, older adults, the mentally ill, people with a history of substance abuse and residents that have chronic illnesses are most susceptible to carbon monoxide poisoning and hypothermia, as well as stroke, heart attacks and asthma.

CO poisoning was triggered by gas leaks in the aftermath of the hurricane, but also by unsafe efforts to keep warm using stoves, generators and even barbeques.

1 comment: