Carbon monoxide has been called “the Silent Killer.” It is a gas that forms when an appliance that burns wood or fuel malfunctions or has poor venting. It is invisible, odorless, tasteless, and can’t be heard. At least 15,000 people go to the emergency room for carbon monoxide poisoning each year in the United States, and in 2015, there were 393 deaths from unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning in the United States. Winter months are particularly deadly, because many people use gas and oil-burning furnaces to heat their homes. 36% of unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning deaths occurred in December, January, and February in 2015.
It can sometimes be difficult to pinpoint carbon monoxide poisoning, because early symptoms often resemble the flu. These symptoms include:
If you have any of these symptoms, especially if you’re using a furnace or a generator, or multiple family members show the same symptoms at the same time, go outside immediately and call 911 or the Poison Control Center at 1-(800) 222-1222.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can be prevented. You can protect yourself and your household from carbon monoxide poisoning by:
· Installing carbon monoxide monitors and making sure they have working batteries. You should check your carbon monoxide detector once a month and replace low batteries as needed.
· Having your furnace inspected every year to make sure that it is working properly.
· Only using gas-powered generators outside and away from vents or windows during a power outage. They should also be more than 20 feet from your home.
· Don’t use gas ovens to heat your home during the winter.
· Don’t use barbecue grills or gas-powered equipment indoors.
· Don’t warm up your car in the garage or another enclosed area during the winter.
· Don’t sit in a car with the engine running if there is deep snow, mud, or another substance blocking the exhaust pipe.