The Department of Health (DHH) is now requiring that cases of carbon monoxide exposure or poisoning must be reported to the State Health Officer within five businesses days. This illness was recently added to the state’s list of Reportable Diseases and Conditions due to the high number of carbon monoxide related poisonings during the winter months and after hurricane-related power outages (State Sanitary Code, Title 51, Part II, Chapter 1).
Reporting is required of every coroner, medical examiner, dentist, infection control practitioner, laboratory director, medical records director, nurse, nurse midwife, nurse practitioner, pharmacist, physician assistant, osteopath, homeopath, podiatrist, poison control center, social worker, veterinarian, and any other health care professional. This information will support the statewide health surveillance efforts of the LDH Office of Public Health.
Although few people in Louisiana are killed by carbon monoxide each year, during power outages and cold weather, many people unknowingly set the stage for dangerous conditions that could lead to poisonous levels. Carbon monoxide is a silent killer because it cannot be seen or smelled. Very tiny amounts of carbon monoxide can be lethal.
The most recent statistics from Louisiana show an average of approximately 100 calls per year to Louisiana’s Poison Control Center for carbon monoxide poisoning, and an average of approximately five deaths per year from unintentional non-fire-related carbon monoxide exposures.
Nationwide, there are an estimated 480 deaths per year and 15,200 carbon monoxide emergencies each year. In the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Gustav, carbon monoxide was responsible for the deaths of several people who improperly used generators.
Carbon monoxide is produced during combustion and may be emitted by heating systems, space heaters, stoves, cars, small gasoline engines, kerosene heaters and burning charcoal and wood. Breathing carbon monoxide found in these fumes can result in illness or death.
The fumes are deadliest when they build up inside a contained area, which is why officials warn never to run generators, grills, camp stoves, or other gasoline, kerosene, propane, natural gas or charcoal-burning devices inside a home, garage or camper. People often turn to these kinds of items to heat their homes during the winter months. When these devices are used indoors, carbon monoxide fumes can build up, causing people and animals to get sick or possibly die.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can be difficult to immediately diagnose because the symptoms are similar to other illnesses. The most common symptoms are headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain and confusion. Anyone experiencing the symptoms should seek medical attention immediately.
Some other tips to avoid carbon monoxide emissions include:
• Install a carbon monoxide detector in your home and replace its battery when you change the time on your clocks each spring and fall.
• Don’t keep a car running inside a garage that is attached to a house, even if the garage door is open.
• Have your heating system, water heater and any other gas, oil, or coal burning appliances serviced by a qualified technician every year.
• Do not use kerosene or other fuel heaters inside. Carbon monoxide is given off when the fuel is burned.
• Even space heaters should be vented to the outside. If yellow flames are visible, carbon monoxide is being made.
• Have your chimney checked or cleaned every year. Chimneys can be blocked by debris. Never burn anything in a stove or fireplace that isn’t vented.
• Never use a generator near a house or building. Carbon monoxide fumes can gain entry into living areas, especially through air conditioning intakes.
Reporting to the LDH Office of Public Health - Section of Environmental Epidemiology and Toxicology can occur via the Web, telephone or fax. Reports can be made by phone at (504) 219-4518 or by fax at (504) 219-4582. They can also be mailed to the Environmental Epidemiology and Toxicology Section, Department of Health & Hospitals, Office of Public Health, 1450 L&A Rd, 2nd Floor, Metairie, LA 70001.