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August 2019 Issue
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Hypothermia’s dangerous misconception

Photo: Bryce Williamson

After several readers queried Dr Malin Zachau’s claims that a hypothermic person would require 300 bodies in their sleeping bag to sufficiently reheat them, Dr Zachau issued a response.

“I believe much of the misunderstanding of this concept is fuelled by the fact that many people have experienced cold stress (the preliminary symptoms of mild hypothermia) and they feel warmer when insulated by another person,” she said.

“However, the inefficiency of skin-to-skin rewarming is huge, it is only approximately 10% efficient.”

Unlike reptiles, humans are not efficient at absorbing heat from their environment, and even less so when in a hypothermic state, where blood flow near the skin surface has reduced.

In a hospital environment, severely hypothermic patients can be treated by intravenous fluids, airway and blood rewarming, and irrigation – warm saltwater solution applied by catheter to the lungs or the abdominal cavity.

Dr Zachau said it’s high time to shed the unhelpful myth of sharing body heat to rewarm hypothermic patients .

“Instead, let’s concentrate on prevention of hypothermia and if it occurs ensure prompt evacuation to medical care.”