Carbon monoxide poisoning is a serious threat to the people this winter. Poison centers already received several calls on carbon monoxide poisoning this year. CO poisoning causes health problems similar to those in elderly people during winter. The list has sleepiness, blurred vision, convulsions, shortness of breath, headache, nausea and dizziness. CO-related death rate is highest among those who are over 65 years old.
The first thing to do with carbon monoxide poisoning is getting fresh air, and seeking medical help right away. People cannot see or smell carbon monoxide, as it has no color, taste or smell, thus, it gets the name the Silent Killer. However, people can still protect themselves.
Carbon monoxide is a gas from fuels that are incompletely burned. Its major causes are using poorly-repaired heating equipment, less ventilation in a car as well as using unvented space heater and charcoal grills indoors. The number of Americans who die every year from unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning reaches more than 400; while 20,000 are rushed to emergency rooms and 4,000 are admitted to hospitals.
Wyoming is ranked by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention as among the states with the highest CO mortality rate. However, cases of CO poisoning are also happening in many locations.
On Friday, the police department of Saginaw Township evacuated for almost three hours, after a CO scare. They reported the cause was a cracked heat exchanger. About 20 people were forced to get out of the building.
On Thursday, a child and two adults died at a home in Pensacola, Florida. A propane heater which was used improperly was believed to be the culprit. Fire Marshal David Allen and colleagues responded to a 911 call of CO poisoning of Jaylen Sunday, 9 years old, who was outside the house. The hospital declared the child’s condition is already stable. However, the victims inside the house were Bridget Sunday, 52 years old; Clarence Nettles, 54; and Tony Taylor Jr., 4.
The person who made the emergency call, Jimmie Sunday, did not require treatment. He said the fumes awakened him and placed the call immediately. Though autopsy results take several weeks, there is no indication of foul play. Allen said the apparent cause is the propane-fired space heater, which is supposed to be used only in well-ventilated areas. However, the box was misleading because it is labeled “indoor-outdoor.”
This incident alarms everyone again that carbon monoxide poisoning is a serious threat this winter. CO displaces oxygen from the human body’s red blood cells, explained Director of Emergency Medicine Dr. Tim Rak of Sacred Heart Hospital. While the function of the red blood cells is to carry oxygen throughout the body, CO gets into the system, sits on the red blood cell and blocks oxygen from getting into the tissues.
According to Dr. Rak, CO poisoning is like drowning because survivors can experience long-term health issues. For instance, patients can get kidney failure and heart problems for the rest of their lives.
While carbon monoxide poisoning is a serious threat this winter, the Wyoming Poison Center is doing community service. It offers guidelines on preventing CO poisoning for free. Furthermore, the following suggestions by the Poison Center may help prevent CO poisoning: yearly inspection of all fuel-burning equipment, vent heaters that are fuel-burning outside, not using a gas range or an oven as a room heater, not using hibachi or charcoal grill inside, not leaving the car running in an attached garage, even with open garage doors, having the vehicle tailpipes and muffler regularly checked and installing CO alarms on every level of the house.
By Judith Aparri
Photo courtesy of Kevin Haggerty – Flicker License