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Risks high for hypothermia, frostbite, doctors warn

Published: Feb. 12, 2021 at 4:46 PM CST
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - As people across Kansas prepare for record-low temperatures and dangerous wind chills, doctors warn that risks for hypothermia and frostbit are especially high. With sub-zero temperatures already ongoing over the past several days, some area hospitals have already started to see patients in need of treatment due to the harsh weather.

In the last week, Ascension Via Christi St. Francis hospital in Wichita has started to see patients coming in with frostbite injuries. The hospital’s regional burn unit is preparing for even more patients with temperatures plummeting further over the weekend. With wind chills already approaching 20 degrees below zero, doctors warn it’s possible to get frostbite in 30 minutes and layers are not enough to protect you.

“People don’t realize, just because they put on a hat and a scarf doesn’t mean they’re automatically protected,” said Ascension Via Christi Regional Burn Center Program Coordinator Sarah Fisher. “When it gets to be this cold and the wind chill adds on to that, when you start looking at those, you know ‘feels-like negative 17,’ which is what it as when I looked a little bit ago, you can actually, even if you’re doing all the right things, start to have symptoms of hypothermia and frostbite.”

Sub-zero temperatures aren’t common in Kansas and with the temperatures hovering around zero with wind chills below negative 20, doctors warn that frostbite and hypothermia could happen in just 10 minutes.

“It can happen actually very, very quickly,” Fisher said “It could happen easily within right around 30 minutes. You could start having symptoms of hypothermia which can lead to frostbite. As we keep getting colder and colder, it could even be 15 (or) 10 minutes.”

It’s unclear how many patients have been admitted into Sedgwick County hospitals with weather-related injuries, but the City of Wichita is currently investigating the possibility of a weather-related death.

While Kansans are no strangers to harsh winters, when it comes to dealing with several consecutive days of sub-freezing temperatures and sub-zero wind chills, residents of northern states, especially in the northeast and the Midwest, are more accustomed to it. Among the tips for weather like we’ll see this weekend, Former Kansan and current Pinehurst, Idaho resident Gary Dose said it’s important to have extra clothes and supplies in your vehicle if you have to get out.

“Because you never know. You think it’s a short trip and then some other fellas stall out in front of you, so you’re stuck on the highway for three hours and then you run out of gas because you thought it was a short trip,” Dose said. “So even if you’re a good driver, you can’t count on it.”

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