Cold temperatures can be lethal — especially if you live in the rural counties of the western US, according to a new report from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the BMJ. The highest cold-related deaths rates are found rural parts of New Mexico and Arizona. Moreover, weather-related deaths — from heat, cold, storms, and lightning — are up to seven times more likely to occur in poor counties than in rich counties throughout the US.
When temperatures take a rapid dive, there’s always a risk that someone might die from exposure. Over 5,800 people died because of cold temperatures between 2010 and 2013, reports the CDC. But considerably more deaths occurred outside cities in the western US, where the death rate was about 20 deaths per million, compared with rural areas in other regions, where the death rate was 4.5 to 7.8 deaths per million. In addition, the risk of dying from cold temperatures is generally lower in the country’s urban centers, where the death rate ranges from 2.9 per million to 5.0 per million.
Paying for heat or shelter isn’t always easy in the rural West, an area that’s plagued by a high rate of poverty. Still, the CDC says that it’s unclear why this region sees more cold-related deaths. The rates may have something to do with the fact that these areas experience rapid temperature shifts, especially at night. High elevations also increase a person’s risk of suffering a cold-related death.
The people who are most at risk for cold-related deaths are African Americans, elderly individuals, infants, men, and people who suffer from chronic medical conditions, such cardiovascular diseases and respiratory diseases, according to a 2014 CDC report. Alcoholics, the homeless, and people who participate in wilderness excursions as well as winter sports are also at risk. Across the United States, the risk of cold-related deaths increases with age.