Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Carbon Monoxide: A Stealthy Killer



# 5186


In my Kitchen, a few feet away from the only likely source of CO gas in my home (my gas stove), I keep a carbon monoxide detector.


I do so because nearly 15  years ago, in another state, my wife and I moved into an older home with a faulty heater, and we very nearly succumbed to CO poisoning that first winter because of it.


Luckily for us, the levels of CO were low enough not to be immediately fatal, but rather induced in us a chronic lethargy, constant headaches, and mind-numbing apathy.


At first, we simply thought we had the flu, or were having difficulty adjusting to our first mid-western winter,  or were allergic to something in our new home.


But the symptoms grew worse, and in desperation we finally installed CO alarms, which immediately began sounding.


We were slowly, but insidiously, being poisoned by low levels of Carbon Monoxide from a wood furnace that the previous owner had `modified’.


Two cold days later (no heat), repairs to the furnace were completed by a qualified technician at a cost of nearly $1000.


An expensive (and almost fatal) lesson.  But the constant headaches, and lethargy, went away with the CO.


The CO detector remains, however.




As a former paramedic – one who has seen CO poisoning more than once in the (dim and distant) past – you’d think that I would have been quicker to realize what the problem was. 


But that’s the problem with CO poisoning, it slowly robs you of your ability to think critically.  


Carbon Monoxide kills by binding to the blood’s hemoglobin at a rate many-fold faster than oxygen can.  It essentially crowds out life-essential oxygen from the blood, causing those exposed to slowly suffocate  . . . often completely unaware of what is happening to them.




Yesterday, the news wires carried the tragic report of 5 teenagers killed in a south Florida motel room from the exhaust of a car left idling in a parking garage below.


Florida: Exhaust Fumes Kill 5 Friends at Motel

Published: December 29, 2010



The sources of CO are numerous; faulty furnaces, snow blocked car exhaust pipes, attempts to use generators inside the house or garage . . . and the use of CO producing emergency heat sources all contribute to the winter body count.


The CDC’s MMWR released a report in 2005 called Unintentional Non--Fire-Related Carbon Monoxide Exposures --- United States, 2001—2003 that stated:


During 2001--2003, an estimated 15,200 persons with confirmed or possible non--fire-related CO exposure were treated annually in hospital EDs. In addition, during 2001--2002, an average of 480 persons died annually from non--fire-related CO poisoning. Although males and females were equally likely to visit an ED for CO exposure, males were 2.3 times more likely to die from CO poisoning. Most (64%) of the nonfatal CO exposures occurred in homes. Efforts are needed to educate the public about preventing CO exposure.



The CDC maintains a webpage on Carbon Monoxide, which you can access here.


CDC TV also has an excellent 3 minute video on CO poisoning, which you can watch here (dbl click image to view on Youtube).





Carbon Monoxide poisoning is a genuine, but preventable, risk.  If you don’t already have carbon monoxide detectors in your home, getting and installing some would make an excellent New Years resolution. 


Believe me, it’s a New Year’s resolution you can live with.




Note: I should mention I also have 2 smoke detectors in my home, as well. - MPC

1 comment:

Jake the Peg said...

I normally follow your blog as I am a researcher on influenza virus host adaptation.
This was interesting. As a student I and my housemates were very probably saved by a smoke detector that woke us up at 3am because our house was on fire (I couldn't see the other side of my bedroom because of the smoke that didn't wake me). I've always had smoke detectors since. And now I have just ordered 2 CO detectors as well. Cheers and keep up the interesting blog.