Exposure is a term that crops up every winter and often during warmer times of the year. Exposure has no definite medical meaning but is probably a substitute of the word hypothermia. Have you ever been so cold that you could not stop shivering? Uncontrolled shivering is one of the first signs of hypothermia or the lowering of the inner core temperature of the body. As the condition progresses, there is an increasing lack of coordination followed by loss of judgment and a fairly rapid descent into unconsciousness and death. An unprepared person may become a victim at temperatures as high as 45° Fahrenheit. In cases affecting hunters or hikers a combination of four factors are usually present:
- Cold (45° or below)
- Wetness (caused by rain, snow, immersion, or condensed perspiration)
- Wind (chill factor)
- A likely victim (meaning a person who is exhausted and certainly unprepared to protect himself or herself).
Good clothing, adequate knowledge, emergency shelter and emergency rations would prevent most fatalities from accidental hypothermia. This is why hypothermia is called the 'Killer of the Unprepared'.
Immediate steps should be taken if you or one of your party shows signs of uncontrolled shivering. Warming of the body and intake of warm liquids (do not take or give alcoholic beverages) and quick energy foods are recommended to restore body functions to normal.
Know your enemy. Never underestimate the power of cold, dampness and wind. Do not overestimate your own strength or that of your party. One individual or mishap can pin you to a location exposed to the elements.