Great news for Minnesota lives and limbs this snowy week.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration just approved a treatment — the very first — for severe frostbite. The drug, called iloprost, could save the fingers and toes of adults at risk of amputation.

Every year, the Minnesota Department of Health tracks the health toll of extreme cold. Frostbite sends hundreds of Minnesotans to the hospital each year, even in a relatively mild winter like this one.

In frigid 2022, trips to the emergency room and hospitalizations for frostbite soared. There were 1,055 cases of superficial frostbite and 114 cases of severe frostbite with tissue necrosis. Last year, frostbite hospitalizations dropped by almost half, to 503 superficial cases and 70 severe frostbite injuries.

Frost bites in stages. Starting with frostnip, which pinks your ears and cheeks and stings like crazy when you step inside and realize just how cold you got while sledding or shoveling or walking the dog.

Then there's the burning and blistering of superficial frostbite that leaves your skin mottled, stinging and swollen.

Severe frostbite — may none of us get closer to it than Mayo Clinic's frostbite resource page — ravages the skin and the tissues beneath. Extremities go numb and turn white or bluish gray. As the damage cuts off circulation, dying tissue hardens and turns black.

This is where the new treatment comes in.

For the drug study, researchers gave patients with severe frostbite an intravenous infusion of iloprost — a hypertension drug that opens blood vessels and prevents clotting — for up to six hours a day for up to seven days.

After a week, a bone scan found that none of the 16 patients who received iloprost were at risk of an amputation. Meanwhile, 60% of the patients in the control group lost fingers or toes.

The results were so promising that federal regulators gave the treatment a priority review and fast-tracked it through the Orphan Drug program. It could be available as early as this spring under the brand name Aurlumyn. Drug maker Eicos Sciences has not yet set a price.