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Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Risk Increases in Winter

Nov 02, 2021
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Carbon monoxide (CO), sometimes referred to as the silent killer, is responsible for more than 50,000 emergency department visits in the United States1 resulting in more than 400 deaths2 each year. Americans ages 65 and older have the highest risk of death from CO poisoning. In Utah, there were 195 emergency department visits and nine deaths reported in 2020 (the most recent numbers available) for CO poisoning*.  During the winter, the risk for CO poisoning increases. The agencies noted in this press release join together to remind Utahns about the symptoms of CO poisoning and provide tips to prevent it.

What is CO?

CO is an odorless, invisible gas produced when gasoline, natural gas, propane, kerosene, and other fuels are not completely burned during use. Automobile exhaust is a common source of CO, but small gasoline engines, camp lanterns and stoves, charcoal grills, gas ranges, and furnaces also produce it. When these are not working properly or are used incorrectly, dangerous amounts of CO can build up indoors or in enclosed spaces and poison people and pets who breathe it in. 
 

What are the Symptoms of CO Poisoning?

Everyone is at risk of CO poisoning. Because CO is invisible and odorless, it is important to know the symptoms of CO poisoning and immediately seek medical help if symptoms occur.

The most common symptoms include:

  • Headache and dizziness (usually affecting more than one person in the same enclosed area)
  • Upset stomach, vomiting, and weakness
  • The disappearance of symptoms when people leave the area
     

If CO poisoning is suspected, quickly get to fresh air and call the Utah Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222, or 911.

How can CO Poisoning Be Prevented?

People can take steps to prevent CO poisoning. For example, most fire-related CO poisonings can be prevented by installing and maintaining smoke detectors.  Here are some other tips for preventing CO poisoning:

  • Heating systems, water heaters, and any other gas-, oil-, wood-, or coal-burning appliances should be serviced by a licensed technician every year.
  • Install an Underwriters Laboratory-approved CO monitor on each level of your home near sleeping areas.  Check or replace the battery twice a year. (As a reminder, do this when you change the time on your clocks each spring and fall.)  Boats and recreational vehicles with propane stoves or heaters should also be equipped with CO detectors.
  • Inspect your home after heavy snowfall and make sure snow is removed from around exhaust stacks, vents, and fresh-air intakes. 
  • If your CO monitor alarms continuously, leave your home and call 911 or your local natural gas company. 
  • Get medical help right away if you suspect CO poisoning and feel dizzy, light-headed, or nauseated.  Immediately call poison control at 1-800-222-1222.
  • Do not use a generator, charcoal grill, camp stove, or other gasoline- or charcoal-burning device inside your home, basement, or garage. Generators should be located outside at least 20 feet from any window, door, or vent. 
  • Do not run a car, truck, or other motorized vehicle inside a garage attached to your house, even if you leave the door open. 
  • Do not burn anything in an unvented stove or fireplace. 
  • Do not heat your house with a natural gas oven.

Knowledge is the key to preventing carbon monoxide poisoning.  Anyone who thinks they have CO poisoning should call the Utah Poison Control Center at the number above or call 911.

Sources:
  1. American Journal of Emergency Medicine 2015 33 (9): 1140–1145.
  2. MMWR Weekly Report.  2014;63(03):65 
* For additional information regarding exposures, hospitalizations and emergency department visits, and deaths relating to CO poisoning in Utah, visit the Utah Environmental Public Health Tracking website at: http://epht.health.utah.gov/epht-view/topic/CarbonMonoxide.html for additional information.
For more information contact:
  • Sherrie Pace at Utah Poison Control Center 801-587-0600 sherrie.pace@hsc.utah.edu
  • Don Porter at Dominion Energy Utah 801-324-5167 don.porter@dominionenergy.com
  • Unified Fire Authority PIO Hotline 801-743-7118 Publicrelations@unifiedfire.org
  • Mark Jones at Utah Department of Health 801-538-6191 markejones@utah.gov