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Carbon Monoxide poisoning hospitalizations

Carbon Monoxide and the Environment

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless gas which can cause sudden illness and death. It is produced by the incomplete burning of various fuels, including coal, wood, charcoal, oil, kerosene, propane and natural gas. Products and equipment powered by internal combustion engines such as portable generators, cars, lawn mowers and power washers also produce CO. Between the years 1999 and 2010, there were a total of 5,149 deaths from unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning in the United States. That averages out to roughly 430 deaths per year.

Because CO is odorless, colorless and otherwise undetectable to the human senses, people may not know that they are being exposed. The initial symptoms of low to moderate CO poisoning are similar to the flu, but without the fever. They include:
      - Headache
      - Fatigue
      - Shortness of breath
      - Nausea
      - Dizziness
High level CO poisoning results in progressively more severe symptoms, including:
      - Mental confusion
      - Vomiting
      - Loss of muscular coordination
      - Loss of consciousness
      - Possibility of death
Symptom severity is related to both the CO level and the duration of exposure. For slowly developing residential CO problems, occupants and/or physicians can mistake mild to moderate CO poisoning symptoms for the flu, which sometimes results in tragic deaths. For rapidly developing, high level CO exposures, such as that associated with the use of generators in residential spaces, a victim's symptoms can progress rapidly.The victim will become mentally confused, and can often lose muscle control without having first experienced milder symptoms. They will likely die if not rescued.
      - Make sure appliances are installed and operated according to the manufacturer's instructions
        and local building codes. Most appliances should be installed by qualified professionals. Have the
        heating system professionally inspected and serviced annually to ensure proper operation. The
        inspector should also check chimneys and flues for blockages, corrosion, partial and complete
        disconnections, and loose connections.
      - Never service fuel-burning appliances without proper knowledge, skill and tools. Always refer to
        the owner’s manual when performing minor adjustments or servicing fuel-burning equipment.
      - Never operate a portable generator or any other gasoline engine-powered tool either in or near
        an enclosed space such as a garage, house or other building. Even with open doors and     
        windows, these spaces can trap CO and allow it to quickly build to lethal levels.
      - Install a CO alarm that meets the requirements of the current UL 2034 safety standard. A CO
        alarm can provide some added protection, but it is no substitute for proper use and upkeep
        of appliances that can produce CO. Install a CO alarm in the hallway near every separate
        sleeping area of the home. Make sure the alarm is not covered up by furniture or draperies.
      - Never use portable fuel-burning camping equipment inside a home, garage, vehicle or tent unless
        it is specifically designed for use in an enclosed space and provides instructions for safe use
        in an enclosed area.
      - Never burn charcoal inside a home, garage, vehicle or tent.
      - Never leave a car running in an attached garage, even with the garage door open.
      - Never use gas appliances such as ranges, ovens or clothes dryers to heat your home.
      - Never operate unvented fuel-burning appliances in any room where people are sleeping.
      - Do not cover the bottom of natural gas or propane ovens with aluminum foil. Doing so blocks the
        combustion air flow through the appliance and can produce CO.
      - During home renovations, ensure that appliance vents and chimneys are not blocked by tarps or
        debris. Make sure appliances are in proper working order when renovations are complete.
The health effects of CO depend on the CO concentration and length of exposure, as well as each individual's health condition. CO concentration is measured in parts per million (ppm). Most people will not experience any symptoms from prolonged exposure to CO levels of approximately 1 to 70 ppm but some heart patients might experience an increase in chest pain. As CO levels increase and remain above 70 ppm, symptoms become more noticeable and can include headache, fatigue and nausea. At sustained CO concentrations above 150 to 200 ppm, disorientation, unconsciousness and death are possible.
If you think you are experiencing any of the symptoms of CO poisoning, get outside to fresh air immediately. Leave the home and call your fire department to report your symptoms from a neighbor’s home. You could lose consciousness and die if you stay in the home. It is also important to contact a doctor immediately for a proper diagnosis. Tell your doctor that you suspect CO poisoning is causing your problems. Prompt medical attention is important if you are experiencing any symptoms of CO poisoning. If the doctor confirms CO poisoning, make sure a qualified service person checks the appliances for proper operation before reusing them.
CO alarms always have been and still are designed to alarm before potentially life-threatening levels of CO are reached. The safety standards for CO alarms have been continually improved and currently marketed CO alarms are not as susceptible to nuisance alarms as earlier models.

If the alarm signal sounds do not try to find the source of the CO :
      - Immediately move outside to fresh air.
      - Call your emergency services, fire department or 911.
      - After calling 911, do a head count to check that all persons are accounted for. DO NOT reenter
        the premises until the emergency services responders have given you permission. You could lose
        consciousness and die if you go into the home.
      - If the source of the CO is determined to be a malfunctioning appliance, DO NOT operate that
        appliance until it has been properly serviced by trained personnel.
CO alarms are available for boats and recreational vehicles and should be used. The Recreation Vehicle Industry Association requires CO alarms in motor homes and in towable recreational vehicles that have a generator or are prepped for a generator.

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