Suspected Hypothermia Deaths in Homes Mount in Texas – NBC 5 Dallas-Fort Worth
With the snow and ice cleaning in Texas after days of unusually cold temperatures, bodies are being found of people who likely froze to death as they struggled to stay warm after turning off electricity for millions of households
Of the roughly 70 deaths attributable to snow, ice and freezing temperatures nationwide, more than a dozen people died in homes that had lost their heat, most of them in Texas. These include an 11-year-old boy who died in his bed in Conroe, near Houston, and two elderly men who were found dead in their homes in the small town of Buffalo Gap, West Texas, Taylor County.
Taylor County sheriff Ricky Bishop said his office had received many calls in the past few days asking for checks on friends or family members who may be suffering from power outages.
“I can probably imagine a point in an hour where we might have received 10 of those calls,” Bishop said, adding that some of the county’s streets were covered in snowdrifts that are 120 cm deep.
Hypothermia can set in when the body is losing heat faster than it can produce and when it drops below about 95 degrees Fahrenheit. The normal body temperature is 98.6 degrees.
“After hours and hours it becomes a very dangerous condition,” said Dr. Robert Glatter, emergency physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.
Matt Zavadsky, a spokesman for the Fort Worth area ambulance operator MedStar, said most hypothermia calls were from people in the home who had temperatures dropped to 50 degrees or less.
MedStar peaked Wednesday with 77 hypothermia calls, Zavadsky said. Some people reported numb hands and feet, while others had more severe symptoms.
“You’ve had people who were so cold for so long they were shaking uncontrollably. They may have had a lowered level of consciousness, which is not uncommon if you’ve been hypothermic for long periods of time,” he said.
Some who were taken to hospitals had reached the point where they stopped shaking. “That’s a very bad sign,” said Zavadsky.
First, the body will try to generate heat by shaking and increasing its heart rate. But when the internal temperatures continue to drop, “these things slow down,” said Dr. Jeff Pothof, an ambulance at UW Health in Madison, Wisconsin. The body restricts blood flow to the extremities in order to keep the blood in the core and to keep the internal organs warm.
If left untreated, hypothermia begins to affect the brain, making it difficult to think clearly or move easily.
“You may not understand exactly what is going on,” said Potfhof. “And that’s a vicious circle because you can’t take the measures you need to take.”
Some of the elderly people who died in Texas were found outside their homes. It wasn’t immediately clear what made her go outside.
After all, poor blood circulation prevents the heart, brain, and other vital organs from functioning, resulting in death. According to the National Weather Service, around 32 people die from the cold each year in the United States.
Prolonged single-digit night lows – like the ones Texans experienced this week – can be especially dangerous, Glatter said, as body temperatures naturally drop overnight.
“It can sneak in on you,” he said, especially when confusion sets in. “Your ability to think clearly is not so good, so people are likely not to notice these signs and symptoms.”
Babies, children, and seniors are at the highest risk of hypothermia due to poor blood circulation and temperature regulation. People with heart problems, asthma, emphysema, chronic lung disease, diabetes, and tobacco use are also at risk.
Some warming strategies can be dangerous rather than helpful.
Too much bundling under blankets or layers of clothing can be dangerous if there is excessive sweating, which can remove heat from the body.
And during weather-related blackouts, people can use propane heaters, run generators, or burn charcoal or wood indoors – all of which can lead to dangerous fires or fatal carbon monoxide poisoning.
“These are all settings for a catastrophe,” said Glatter.
Renault reported from New York City.