Frigid weather conditions spark health concerns

A man who was homeless died of hypothermia on Monday in Portland

With low temperatures and high winds expected through the weekend, health and emergency management officials are urging seniors and other at-risk populations to protect themselves from cold exposure, and homeless people to seek shelter.

“Prolonged exposure to cold eventually will use up your body’s stored energy, resulting in hypothermia or abnormally low body temperature,” said Dr. Alan Melnick, Clark County health officer/public health director. “This affects the brain, making hypothermia particularly dangerous because a person may be unaware of their condition and unable to do anything about it.”

People more likely to experience hypothermia or other cold-related conditions include the homeless or others who remain outdoors for long periods; elderly people with inadequate food, clothing or heat; babies sleeping in cold bedrooms; and people who drink alcohol or use illicit drugs.

Untreated, hypothermia can lead to death.

Hypothermia and frostbite are of special concern for unsheltered people who lack sufficient items such as coats, hats, gloves, footwear, tarps, sleeping bags and blankets.

In Portland on Monday, a man was observed in a doorway, lying on a pillow with a blanket covering his body. Police were called to the scene for a welfare check, and discovered that the man, later identified as 51-year-old Mark Elliot Johnson, of Hillsboro, was dead. Based on the observations of emergency responders, officials believe he succumbed to hypothermia.

Signs of hypothermia include shivering, fatigue, confusion, fumbling hands, memory loss and slurred speech. A person exhibiting these symptoms should get immediate medical attention.

To find a warming shelter in Clark County, call the Council for the Homeless housing hotline at 695-9677, call 211 or visit www.211info.org.

During business hours, people in need of shelter can visit libraries, malls, community centers and other public buildings.