January was worst month in 5 years for frostbite, hypothermia cases at Winnipeg hospitals

The number of patients coming to Winnipeg hospitals with cold-weather related injuries reached a five-year high this winter.

In January 2019, more patients were treated for hypothermia and frostbite than in any other month since 2015.

Twice as many patients were treated for hypothermia in January of this year than in the same month in 2015 — 12 this year, compared to six in January 2015.

The spike in frostbite cases was even more dramatic, rising more than three-fold over the same period — from 21 in 2015 to 68 in 2019.

Those numbers beat previous five-year records set just the year before. In January 2018, Winnipeg hospitals saw 11 hypothermia cases and 60 cases of frostbite.

Also, the total number of cold-weather presentations — which includes hypothermia and frostbite — was 80 this January, higher than at any point over the past five years and up from a previous five-year high of 70 the year before.

Dr. Heejune Chang, medical officer of health at the WRHA, said the numbers appear to be higher, but couldn’t draw any conclusions about what could be causing the increase.

“We’ve seen a lot more cold weather warnings this winter. So there may be some relationship there, but we haven’t analyzed the numbers, really, to fairly know what’s behind that,” she said.

January saw 14 days where the low reached –25 C or colder and nine days of –30 C or colder. For half of the month, the daytime high didn’t rise above –15 C.

Chang stressed that when extreme cold hits, safety is important. That means checking the forecast every day, dressing appropriately, and checking on people who might be vulnerable to the cold, including children, the elderly and the homeless.

“We have to consider our societal responsibilities as well, to make sure that we support individuals who may not have the same advantages as others,” Chang said.

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