PUBLISHED: 10:10 AM on Wednesday, November 30, 2005
Hypothermia can strike with more than a big chill
Whether you're skiing down an Eaglecrest black diamond, sitting in a Texas deer stand, huddled amid decoys under a cloud of Arkansas mallards, or drifting a nymph down New Mexico's San Juan, you're probably closer to a killer than you realize.

This killer doesn't have claws or fangs, but its bite can take the life right out of you, and kills hundreds of people each year.

This silent predator is hypothermia.

Hypothermia is a subnormal temperature of the body resulting when more heat escapes the body than a human being can produce. Most times, people who develop hypothermia don't realize anything is wrong. They just shiver a lot and know they are really, really cold.

Shivering is the first sign of hypothermia because it is the body's attempt to restore heat. A little bit of shivering is obviously common anytime it gets colder than we can stand, but uncontrollable shivering is the first indicator. Other warning signs include slowed breathing, slurred speech, pale, cold skin and a sense of lethargy. Extreme signs are incoherence and unconsciousness.

The body's normal temperature is near 98.6 degrees, but once a human's core temperature falls below 95, hypothermia sets in.

Getting wet greatly increases the chance of developing hypothermia, especially in the fall and winter and the body loses more heat in water than in air. Wind can also suck the heat out of you. People lose a great deal of heat through their extremities, especially the head, so dressing yourself with adequate clothing, including mittens and a head covering, will keep some of that heat in.

Seeking immediate attention for anyone showing signs of hypothermia is crucial.

Those most at risk of developing hypothermia are those who are old, frail or inactive. Young children are also at risk and taking drugs or ingesting alcohol also can increase risk.

The good part is that hypothermia is preventable in most situations. The bad part is that many people don't think about simple things that can end up saving their life. Packing extra clothing and supplies can mean the difference between life and death whether you're out in the woods or driving to grandma's house for Christmas.

Some of the worst stories are those of people who get stranded in extreme weather and die because they weren't prepared.

Being prepared to face inclement weather will turn this silent predator into a geriatric with no teeth.

Will Leschper is a copy editor for the Amarillo Globe-News, Amarillo, Texas.