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Carbon Monoxide – The Silent Killer

With the onset of colder weather, the poison center learns of preventable deaths due to carbon monoxide poisoning. A common scenario is the family who uses a generator indoors to produce heat in the home. The generator creates carbon monoxide into the air that the family breathes and fatalities occur.

Carbon monoxide is a gas that is released from the incomplete combustion of a carbon containing substance such as gas, kerosene, wood or charcoal. Common sources include wood fires, gas generators, car engines, and charcoal grills. Carbon monoxide is odorless and colorless so it does not have properties to warn people that they are being exposed. Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning can mimic flu-like symptoms except that the flu-like symptoms improve after the affected person leaves the area with the high concentrations of the carbon monoxide.

Carbon monoxide detectors can be used in the home as warning devices. Carbon monoxide detectors are not the same as smoke detectors and most smoke detectors do not detect carbon monoxide. The carbon monoxide detector gives an alarm when the levels of the carbon monoxide in the environment rise. This alerts the people in the environment to leave the building and open windows to ventilate the area. Symptomatic patients should be evaluated by a health care provider. Do not operate any fuel burning appliances until the source of the carbon monoxide has been identified and repaired.

  1. Have a carbon monoxide detector in the house. The detector should meet the requirements of the Underwriters Laboratories (UL).
  2. Don’t use a generator or other gasoline-powered engines in an enclosed space.
  3. Don’t bring burning charcoal grills into the house.
  4. Make sure the chimney flue is clear before using the fireplace. Do not close the damper of the chimney until the fire is completely extinguished and the embers are cold.
  5. Don’t run or idle the car engine in the garage.

Additional useful information about carbon monoxide poisoning and its prevention can be found in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website: