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400 Americans die from unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 20,000 visit the emergency room, and more than 4,000 others are hospitalized.
Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas that often goes undetected, striking victims caught off guard or in their sleep.
This "silent killer" is produced by burning fuel in cars or trucks, small engines, stoves, lanterns, grills, fireplaces, gas ranges,
portable generators or furnaces. When the gas builds up in enclosed spaces, people or animals who breathe it can be poisoned. Ventilation does not guarantee safety.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission says about 170 people in the United States die every year from carbon monoxide produced by non-automotive consumer products, such as room heaters. So as the weather turns colder, it's important to take extra precautions.
Exposure to carbon monoxide can result in permanent neurological damage or death, and anyone can be at risk.
The CDC says infants, the elderly, and people with chronic heart disease, anemia or breathing problems are more prone to illness or death, but carbon monoxide doesn't discriminate – especially if certain conditions are present.
In July 2015, for example, four young people and a dog were found dead of carbon monoxide poisoning inside a cabin in Maine. Authorities believe
they went to bed without shutting off a gas-powered generator running in the basement.
Winter can be a prime time for carbon monoxide poisoning as people turn on their heating systems and mistakenly warm their cars in garages.
The National Safety Council recommends you install a battery-operated carbon monoxide detector in your home near the bedrooms. Check or replace the battery when you change the time on your clocks each spring and fall. The CDC offers
these additional tips:
The CPSC says
never ignore a carbon monoxide alarm, and do not try to find the source of the gas. Instead, follow these steps:
The U.S. Fire Administration has put together materials on the
dangers of carbon monoxide. Included is a list of carbon monoxide poisoning symptoms.
Low to moderate carbon monoxide poisoning is characterized by:
High level carbon monoxide poisoning results in:
Symptom severity varies depending on the level of carbon monoxide and duration of exposure. Mild symptoms sometimes are mistaken for flu.