Beware the silent killer

By Ryn Gargulinski: QCS

It’s sneaky. It’s silent. And it kills – especially in winter when people crank up their heaters. Known as the silent killer, carbon monoxide poisoning causes death, injury or disability to an estimated 10,000 people every year in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In New Mexico, 136 people died by unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning from 1980 to 1995, according to the state medical investigator, and at least half of those deaths could have been prevented by a carbon monoxide detector.

The most common symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning may include dizziness, nausea, vomiting, tightening across the forehead, a rapid heartbeat and vision going dim, according to the Health Sciences Center at the University of New Mexico.

If one inhales the toxic gas, it prevents the blood from delivering oxygen to the brain and heart, ending up in brain damage or death in just a few minutes, the center said. The New Mexico Poison Center adds exposure to the deadly gas can lead to convulsions, coma and ultimately death, and the first thing one should do if affected by CO is run outside for a breath of fresh air.

Those most susceptible include children and infants, pregnant women, senior citizens and people with breathing or heart problems, the Health Sciences Center said.

The centers agree the easiest way to prevent against accidental CO poisoning is to purchase a carbon monoxide detector.

The units range in quality and price and can be widely purchased online starting at about $40. The Health Sciences Center recommends, however, for optimum safety the detector be approved by the Underwriters Laboratories (UL).

“Carbon monoxide detectors should be placed close to every sleeping area in your home and in your garage,” said Jess Benson, director of the New Mexico Poison Center.

In addition to the 1,500 people who annually perish from accidental exposure to the gas, the Centers for Disease Control said approximately 2,300 people commit suicide with CO.

Protect against the silent killer carbon monoxide

Install a carbon monoxide detector in every sleeping area and level of the home.

If the detector goes off, leave immediately and call the Poison Center at (800) 222-1222.

Have all fuel-burning household appliances inspected each year.

Never warm up a car or leave the engine running the garage, when it’s parked or covered in snow.

Never use a gas oven to heat homes, even for short periods.

Never use a charcoal grill indoors.

When a fireplace is in use, open the flue.

Source: University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center