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Regions Hospital reports burn unit full of frostbite cases

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The Pioneer Press reports that all eight beds in the burn center at Regions Hospital are full of patients with frostbite-related injuries.

It's rare to have so many cases of frostbite that require inpatient hospitalization – in a typical year, the hospital might see just 3 to 5 a winter, but there have been a dozen so far, four in the last 24 hours, the newspaper reports.

"We're expecting some more tonight, because it's going to still be 15 or 20 below," Dr. George Edmonson, an interventional radiologist at Regions, told the newspaper.

Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis spokeswoman Christine Hill said the emergency room handled a couple cases overnight, the Associated Press reports.

Frostbite happens when the skin and body tissue just underneath it freezes, as skin becomes very cold, then numb, hard and pale, according to the Mayo Clinic. Frostbite typically affects smaller, more exposed areas of the body – fingers, toes, nose, ears, cheeks and chin. Severe cases can lead to amputation.

Frostbite to exposed skin is a real risk within five minutes when wind chills hit 40 below zero.

The first stage of frostbite – sometimes called frostnip – irritates the skin but doesn't cause permanent damage, Mayo says.

Minnesota is in the middle of an eight-week stretch that is traditionally the busiest time for hypothermia and frostbite cases, WCCO reported. Emergency rooms have stocked supplies such as warming blankets to treat such cases, the station reports.

The slightest of signs can be the biggest of indicators that you may be at risk for frostbite, Dr. Kai Tuominen of St. John’s Hospital in Maplewood, told WCCO. “When things start hurting, get out of the cold,” he said.

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