As a potentially historic winter storm hits New England, it's a good idea to prepare for a power outage just in case.
Here are some tips to stay healthy when the lights go out:
A condition called hypothermia happens when a person's core body temperature goes below 95 degrees F. A rapid loss of body heat, usually because of being in cold water, is called acute hypothermia.
Cold outdoor weather poses risks of subacute hypothermia, when the body can't cope with the cold. And chronic hypothermia happens from ongoing exposure to indoor temperatures below 50 degrees F, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
If your home has no heat, you can prevent hypothermia by using blankets, wearing layers of clothing and a hat, and moving around, as body temperature goes up with physical activity. Everyone should also be getting adequate food and liquids.
A person with hypothermia may become less awake and aware as his or her body temperature drops. Give the person warm beverages, but not alcohol or cigarettes. Don't try to warm a person with severe hypothermia using direct heat or hot water, as they will need to be carefully rewarmed and monitored. The CDC also discourages rubbing or massaging the skin.
Drink safe water
Water purification systems may suffer malfunctions because of power outages. You should not brush your teeth, wash or prepare food, wash your hands or make ice or baby formula using contaminated water.
Keeping bottled water around is one solution, as long as you know that it came from a safe source.
The best way to make sure that your water is safe from bacteria and parasites is to boil it; one minute of boiling will kill most of these organisms, says the CDC.
You can also disinfect water yourself by filtering it through a clean cloth, paper towel, or coffee filter, or allowing it to settle. Then, draw off the clear water and disinfect using a household chemical aid such as these:
Unscented liquid household chlorine (5-6%) bleach can be used as follows: 1/8 of a teaspoon can be added for every gallon of clear water, or 1/4 teaspoon of bleach for each gallon of cloudy water. Stir well and let stand for at least 30 minutes before you use it. Disinfected water should be stored in clean containers that have tight covers.
Iodine and chlorine dioxide tablets can also be used as disinfectants -- just follow the manufacturer's instructions.
Managing your medications
The elderly and chronically ill need to take note of their medications when the power goes out.
Insulin and some liquid medications may require cooling, says Dr. David Seaburg, president of the American College of Emergency Physicians. In warm weather, lunch bags containing a cool pack are a good option for those products.
For those facing evacuation, it's important to have a record -- either a piece of paper or a computer accessible file -- with the names and dosage information of your prescription drugs. Ideally, it should be prepared in advance.
For diabetics, a supply of snacks is essential, along with insulin and any other medications, says Dr. David Ross, a Colorado Springs, Colorado, emergency physician who assisted victims of a wildfire last summer.
Ross also suggests that people have an emergency one-month supply of prescription medications, so they will not be caught short-handed.
And Seaburg adds, "If you have a chronic illness or take prescription medications and you are evacuated or choose to go to a community center, make someone aware that you have a medical condition, so they will know what to check for if your behavior seems a little unusual."
Another consideration during a loss of power is for patients with chronic breathing problems.
People who require continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP, devices for sleep apnea or other sleep issues will need an alternative source of power. There are options available for most machines, including CPAP battery packs, DC power options, marine battery adapters and travel-specific CPAP machines to provide power in the event of an electrical outage.