Method: A retrospective study was performed of 10 yr of medical records to determine the type, severity, etiological factors and treatment of cold injury experienced by members of the British Antarctic Survey between 1986-95.
Results: There were 61 new consultations for cold injury. These comprised 2.5% of all new consultations with an incidence of 65.6 per 1000 per year. Cold injuries seen were frostbite (95%), hypothermia (3%) and trench foot (2%). Superficial frostbite was the most common injury (74% of cases) with the face the most frequently affected area (47% of injuries). No cases of frostbite severe enough to cause permanent tissue loss were seen. The prevalence of cold injury increased with falling temperature to a maximum between -25 and -35 degrees C, despite these temperatures occurring infrequently. The relationship with windchill is not as clear cut with frequency of injury tending to follow the frequency of windchill values except at higher windchill values. Neither temperature nor windchill were found to significantly influence the severity of frostbite. Prior cold injury was shown to be significantly (chi2 p < 0.001) associated with further cold injury. Most injuries (78%) occurred during recreation; skiing and snowmobile driving were often implicated.
Conclusions: Cold injury is uncommon in Antarctica. Despite this, it warrants a continued high profile as under most circumstances it may be regarded as an entirely preventable occurrence.