In South Australia, average daily winter temperatures hover around a minimum of 46 degrees. The area's mild winters inspire tourism agencies to advertise it as "the perfect place to escape the chill." And yet, South Australia has higher rates of death by hypothermia than Sweden, a country whose dark winter temperatures regularly plummet to -8 degrees.
How can that be? In South Australia, researchers found, hypothermia mostly claims the lives of older women who are living at home by themselves. Over a six year period, forensic records revealed that South Australia suffered a death rate of 3.9 per 100,000 people (62 deaths overall), compared to Sweden at 3.3 (296 deaths), Australia's ABC News reports.*
Most victims in Australia, the researchers explained to ABC News, did not leave the house much and did not have many friends, family or other outside connections to society. They also often had underlying illnesses or conditions that likely made them more susceptible to the cold. In Sweden, on the other hand, men who have been drinking heavily and find themselves stranded outside in the snow tend to be the predominant victims, the researchers add.
As the Centers for Disease Control indicates, this problem is not confined to Australia. In the U.S., hypothermia victims tend to be elderly people who are unable to prepare for or cope with the cold, or babies who are left in cold rooms.
The study emphasizes the need for preparedness and community support for preventing weather-related deaths and injuries. In South Australia, for example, only 2.6 percent of houses have double-glazed windows for warding off the cold, while this is standard in Swedish homes. Preparation and support extends across non-cold-related weather events, too. As we reported here earlier this month, combating heat-related deaths—which also predominantely impact elderly people living on their own—is largely a matter of ensuring buildings are adequately cooled.
*This sentence has been updated for clarity.