Carobon Monoxcide Is Winters Silent Killer

Five hundred Americans die each year from carbon monoxide poisoning. It’s estimated that 15,000 people are treated at hospital emergency rooms for the condition.

CNN Medical Correspondent Judy Fortin learned more about it from Dr. Howard Frumkin of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Fortin: What is carbon monoxide?

Frumkin: Carbon monoxide is an odourless, colourless gas that is a product of combustion. When we burn gasoline, natural gas, coal or wood it produces carbon monoxide.

Fortin: Why is it dangerous?

Frumkin: It’s dangerous because it binds with the red blood cells in our bodies and prevents them from carrying oxygen. It can asphyxiate you.

Fortin: What are some of the symptoms?

Frumkin: You can have a headache, nausea, some vomiting and some disorientation. As it progresses some people pass out and lose consciousness. They can even progress to death. If they recover they can have long-lasting neurological problems. (Watch to learn the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning. )

Fortin: What should you do if your carbon monoxide alarm goes off?

Frumkin: Leave the premises. When the alarm goes off to indicate that carbon monoxide levels are high, don’t ask questions. Take your pets, take your family members and yourself, and leave the premises until you can be sure the carbon monoxide has been dissipated.

Fortin: How does clean air help if you have been breathing carbon monoxide?

Frumkin: The clean air helps to prevent any further build-up of carbon monoxide bound to red blood cells, and that’s a healthy kind of air to breathe.

Fortin: What should you do if you think you have carbon monoxide poisoning?

Frumkin: If you think you have had carbon monoxide poisoning then let health-care providers know immediately. There is a simple blood test to look at the levels of carbon monoxide levels in the blood. In severe cases there are treatments such as hyperbolic oxygen that help remove the carbon monoxide and replace it with healthy haemoglobin

Fortin: Why are people susceptible when they’re sleeping?

Frumkin: Carbon monoxide is an insidious, silent killer. Often times it strikes in winter months because we are burning fuels close at hand. Often it strikes at night because we turn on some heating device and go to sleep. So a common and tragic story is that a family will go to sleep with a generator or a space heater or a gas heater burning. If things go well, someone wakes up with a terrible headache and helps everybody leave the room. But every year we have terrible stories where people go to sleep and never wake up.

Fortin: What are some prevention tips?

Frumkin: First, have a carbon monoxide detector in your house and change the battery twice a year. Second, have a qualified technician come in and inspect your heating system, because malfunctions in the heating system are a major source of carbon monoxide. Third, burn things carefully. That means that generators and gas heaters that burn fuel must be used outside the house, not in the bedroom, not in the garage, not in the basement — not in the house.


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