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Beware of carbon monoxide poisoning


Last updated 11/24/2006 at Noon

Carbon monoxide poisoning is the leading cause of accidental poisoning deaths in the United States, with winter approaching and the nights getting cooler and people firing up their heaters and using other means to warm their homes. Carbon monoxide is responsible for 1,500 deaths and 10,000 illnesses each year, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association.

What is carbon monoxide?

Carbon Monoxide is sometimes known as the “silent killer.” It is a tasteless, odorless, invisible toxic gas. The gas is produced by a flame or fire. Many items used by people every day produce carbon monoxide, such as automobiles, gas furnaces, gas stoves, fire places, wood burning stoves, gas dryers, barbecue grills or un-vented space heaters. Under normal conditions, if appliances and venting systems are functioning properly, carbon monoxide will be safely vented out of the home.

How does it affect the body?

The gas is inhaled into the lungs, where it enters the bloodstream. The carbon monoxide is attracted by the “hemoglobin” in the blood 200 times more than oxygen. It starts to suffocate the body “from the inside out.” According to the Harvard Medical School, when 50 to 80 percent of hemoglobin is blocked by carbon monoxide, the brain dies.

Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning

• Headache

• Dizziness

• Feeling tired all the time or wanting to take naps all the time

• Nausea and/or vomiting

• Flu-like symptoms

• Unconsciousness (in advance stages)

• Breathing/heartbeat can stop

• Can lead to death if not treated

How to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning

• Have your furnace checked once a year by a qualified heating technician

• Change the filters in your furnace every month

• Use space heaters in a well ventilated areas

• Never use a barbecue grill in the home

• During very windy days, do not use your fireplace or wood burning stove

• If you cook for extended periods of time, open a window or door occasionally to allow fresh air to enter the home

• NEVER use gasoline or propane power equipment, such as electric generators, inside a home

• NEVER leave you car running in the garage. Even with the garage door open, lethal levels of carbon monoxide can reach the interior of the home, causing sickness

Install a carbon monoxide detector

Carbon monoxide cannot be detected by taste, smell or sight if you have the symptoms that mean that carbon monoxide has already entered the body. The carbon monoxide detector works like a smoke detector. It monitors the air for levels of carbon monoxide before they become lethal, giving adequate time to ventilate the home and find the problem. If it is detected, it will sound an alarm to alert you.

If the detector’s alarm goes off, you should look for the cause of carbon monoxide. If you cannot find it, leave the area and call 9-1-1 from a safe location.

If you have more questions about carbon monoxide or carbon monoxide detectors, contact Fire-Public Information Officer John Buchanan of the North County Fire Department at (760) 723-2005.


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