Baton Rouge – January is the deadliest month for carbon monoxide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Although few people in Louisiana are killed by carbon monoxide each year, during 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.
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 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 and Rita, carbon monoxide was responsible for several deaths in people improperly using generators.
The fumes are deadliest when they build up inside a contained area, like a house, 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,” explained State Health Officer Dr. Jimmy Guidry. “When these devices are used indoors, carbon monoxide fumes can build up, causing people and animals to get sick or possibly die.”
Guidry continued, “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’s attached to a house, even if the garage door is open.
• Have your heating system, water heater and any other gas, oil, and 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.
For more information on carbon monoxide poisoning and prevention tips, visit http://www.cdc.gov/co/default.htm .