The number of frostbite cases, especially among young children, has skyrocketed in the last two weeks in Quebec. In this period of extreme cold, at least six serious cases were counted at the University Hospital Center (CHU) Sainte-Justine since mid-December.
Many more parents than usual have come with their children to the CHU Sainte-Justine emergency department in recent weeks, says Dr. Antonio D’Angelo, Emergency Medical Chief of Sainte-Justine Hospital. “There is definitely an increase,” he notes.
It is difficult to quantify this increase, but Dr. D’Angelo is confident that he sees only “the tip of the iceberg” in the emergencies he leads. Six serious cases have been reported since mid-December. “We get the worst and some a little less serious, but there are certainly many more,” he says.
Because they lose heat more quickly, children are at greater risk of frostbite in the winter, and infants are most affected by extreme cold bites. “The very young do not move much, it makes them more vulnerable,” says Dr. D’Angelo. A baby in a stroller for example, whose blood circulation is not stimulated, must be very well protected against the wind.
Children who play outside because they do not always linger on the signals their body sends them must be watched closely.
Dr. D’Angelo notes that adolescents are also often victims of low temperatures, because they “do not cover enough”.
PREVENTION IS BEST
Emergency physicians at Sainte-Justine Hospital posted a warning on their Facebook page about the risks to children exposed to cold weather. Accompanied by photos of bloated, reddened, blistered feet of a child, the pediatricians’ message is clear: Keeping young children warm and dry is essential when cold is so intense. “You have to warn people, inform them of the different ways to monitor risks,” says Dr. D’Angelo.
“No need to be exposed for a very long time so that children run the risk of having frostbite,” says the chief of pediatric emergencies, who believes that in order to avoid this inconvenience, the instructions to follow are simple.
It is important, of course, to dress children properly. Frostbite occurs at the extremities of the body, which must be covered well, taking care however not to impede the flow of blood. Preventing cold from entering is one thing, but preventing moisture is also essential. “This is often overlooked, but the heat loss is much faster when the clothes are wet, and the child becomes much more at risk,” says Dr. D’Angelo.
When a sensation of tingling and burning occurs, if the skin blushes, then it is time to get warm as soon as possible. If frostbite could not be avoided, the affected area will lose its sensitivity and color.
After a longer exposure to cold, we notice the appearance of water blisters. If these are very common, the pain is particularly severe and the skin is lacerated and bluish, then the parents should consult a doctor. “The worst risk is to permanently damage the tissue, which would require amputation of the necrotic parts,” says Dr. D’Angelo, who assures however that these situations are very rare and will affect people on the street.
To treat mild frostbite, the pediatrician recommends warming, without friction, the affected areas, gradually. “Then you have to treat the wounds like burns: with bandages and Polysporin. The polar temperatures are expected to return to seasonal norms soon, but Dr. D’Angelo believes that vigilance is always needed to protect children from the ravages of the cold, which they are particularly sensitive to.
For its part, the Montreal Children’s Hospital (HMPE) found no increase in cases of frostbite in the emergency room.
Environment Canada lifts extreme cold warning in some parts of Canada
Environment Canada yesterday lifted the extreme cold warning that was in effect for southern Quebec. In an interview, meteorologist Jean-Philippe Bégin explains that light snowfall has brought slightly lower temperatures to the south of the province. The mercury still remains below seasonal norms. Quebec should be shaken by a new storm by the end of the week. A depression in formation on the American east coast should degenerate, Thursday and Friday, in a cocktail of precipitations. Estrie, eastern Quebec and the Maritime Provinces are expected to be the most heavily affected. Jean-Philippe Bégin evokes “a mixture of snow, sleet, freezing rain, followed by a final in rain that should freeze on the ground with the return of cold air on Friday”. Some areas north of the storm track, including the Gaspé Peninsula and the North Shore, could receive all of the precipitation in the form of snow. This depression will be accompanied by winds ranging from moderate to strong throughout Quebec. The freezing temperatures should be back by Friday. – The Canadian Press