How to stay safe in cold weather and flu prevention

January 6, 2014 10:00:00 PM PST
Dr. Stephen Sokalski, Infectious Disease specialist from Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, provides tips.

Key tips for avoiding hypothermia and frostbite:

1) Dress appropriately.
Light, loose, layered clothing provides both ventilation and insulation. Top your outfit with a water-repellent (not waterproof) fabric.
Additionally, check for gaps in your clothing (such as between your glove and sleeve) that might expose bare skin to the cold.

2) Take special care to protect your head, hands and feet. Substantial heat loss occurs through the scalp, so head coverings are vital.
Mittens are warmer than gloves, and two pair of socks (wool over lightweight cotton) will help keep your feet warm.
If you plan on being out in the cold for a prolonged period, do not drink or smoke. Alcohol, caffeine and nicotine leave the skin more prone to thermal injury.
If you get wet, get inside and remove the wet clothing as quickly as possible. Check yourself every half-hour or so for signs of frostbite. If your toes, fingers, ears or other body parts feel numb, get inside.

3) If you do get frostbite, you should seek medical attention. Should you be unable to see a physician immediately, follow these tips to prevent further injury:
Get to a warm room as soon as possible and call for medical assistance. You can have warm drinks, such as broth or tea.
Rest the injured areas (avoid walking on frostbitten feet, for example) and elevate them slightly.
Take off any wet or restrictive clothing.
Warm the affected area by immersing it in warm (NOT HOT) water for at least 30 to 45 minutes, or until it feels warm and sensation returns. During warming, you may feel severe pain and the injured area may swell and change color.
Do not do anything that will further injure the frostbitten tissue. Leave blisters intact, and cover them with a sterile or clean cloth until you are seen by a physician.
Do not rub the area with your hands, with snow, or with anything else.
Do not use dry heat, such as from a heating pad, sunlamp, fire, or radiator, to try to warm the area. Because the skin is numb and will not feel the heat, it can easily be burned.

4) Also remember:
Do not drink alcohol or take ilicit drugs. (these potentially lower core body temperature/make you less aware of the environment)
Keep your home heated, but do not use stove or other heaters not approved for indoor use (namely, kerosene)
Visit the elderly/disabled. (increased risk secondary to poor cold tolerance and inability to care for self) Keep active.

FLU: Dr. Sokolski is prepared to talk about all aspects of the flu and flu vaccine, including the following general questions:

1) Some states have been hit hard by the flu, how bad is the problem in Illinois, and can we expect the course of the disease to increase here?
2) What is the most prevalent strain, and is the vaccine effective against it?
3) Is there still sufficient time to get vaccinated and develop an immunity to the flu?
4) How do flu symptoms differ from symptoms of the common cold? How can we know if we have the flu rather than just a bad cold?
5) In addition to vaccination, what precautions can we take to prevent getting the flu? 6) If we do come down with the flu, what are the most effective methods for treating it?