SOMERVILLE, NJ - The Somerset County Department of Health is urging residents to take precautions over the next several days as low temperatures and high winds combine to create frigid outdoor conditions, which can lead to serious health problems, including hypothermia, frostbite and worse.

Take the necessary precautions and know how to identify cold-weather health issues:

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First and foremost: Stay warm. As temperatures drop and wind speeds increase, heat can leave ther body more rapidly. If unprepared, exposure to cold temperatures can cause serious health problems, especially for young children and the elderly. Serious health problems can result from prolonged exposure to the cold, both indoors and outdoors. The most common cold-related problems are hypothermia and frostbite.

When exposed to cold temperatures, the body begins to lose heat faster than it can be produced. Prolonged exposure to cold eventually uses up the body’s stored energy. The result is hypothermia, or abnormally low body temperature. Body temperature that is too low affects the brain, making a person unable to think clearly or move well. This makes hypothermia particularly dangerous because a person may not know it is happening and so is unable to do anything about it. People susceptible to hypothermia often are elderly, with inadequate food, clothing or heating; babies sleeping in cold bedrooms; people who are outdoors for long periods of time; and alcohol drinkers or users of illicit drugs.

In addition, follow these guidelines to stay safe, healthy and warm:

Try to stay indoors when weather is extremely cold, especially if winds are high.

If you must go outdoors, make trips outside as brief as possible.

Dress in layers of warm clothing if you plan to be outdoors.

Protect your head, neck, hands and feet from the cold by wearing a hat, scarf, gloves and socks.

Offer to help people in your neighborhood who may have limited access to heat.

Check frequently on older adults and people who are ill.

During peak cold times, visit indoor public facilities such as shopping malls, libraries or senior centers, if you don't have enough heat in your home. Be sure to check that they are open before venturing outdoors.

Do not leave pets outside.

If you use an outdoor generator at home, place it at least 10 feet away from all doors and windows to avoid exhaust gases entering the home.

Stoves, barbeques and ovens can produce carbon monoxide gas, which can be deadly when used to heat a home. Never use these appliances in place of approved heaters such as electric, natural gas or fireplaces.

Children, the elderly and people with disabilities or special medical needs are especially vulnerable during cold snaps. Extra precaution should be taken to ensure they don't get too cold.

Install a carbon monoxide detector in your home to reduce the risk of poisoning. Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include shortness of breath, headache, nausea, and muscle and joint pain. Exposure to high levels of carbon monoxide could lead to death within minutes. Those suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning should be immediately taken outside into the fresh air. It’s important that they be taken to an emergency room for immediate medical treatment.

For more cold-weather information online visit