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Unintentional Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

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  • Carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning occurs by inhalation of a high concentration of CO over a short period of time, or small concentrations of CO over a long amount of time.
  • Exposure usually occurs within an enclosed or semi-enclosed space.
  • Common sources of CO exposure include: vehicle exhaust, small gasoline engines, generators, charcoal and wood stoves, room heaters, and fuel burning appliances.
  • General health symptoms for persons who are exposed to higher levels of CO may include: headache, dizziness, weakness, fainting, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, mental confusion, sleepiness, chest pain, and breathing difficulties.
  • Because CO is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, non-irritating gas, many people do not realize they have been exposed until it is too late.
  • People who are intoxicated or asleep may show no symptoms of poisoning before death.
  • From 2007-2009 in Oklahoma, 19 people died and 154 were hospitalized for CO poisoning.
  • All people and animals are susceptible to CO poisoning, but unborn babies, infants, and people with heart disease, anemia, or respiratory disorders are more susceptible.

Prevention

  • Install and maintain CO alarms according to the manufacturer’s instructions, and test alarms monthly.
  • Install CO alarms outside bedrooms and on every level of the home.
  • Have heating systems, including water heaters, and any other gas, oil, or coal burning appliances inspected yearly.
  • Have chimneys inspected or cleaned yearly.
  • Do not sleep in a room with an unvented gas/kerosene space heater.
  • Never use generators indoors, even in the basement or garage. Keep generators a safe distance from vents, doors, and windows.
  • Do not use gas ranges or ovens for heating.
  • Do not use grills or camp stoves indoors.
  • Do not use gasoline-powered tools or appliances (lawn mower, chain saw, blowers, etc.) in enclosed spaces.
  • During and after a snow storm, make sure vents for furnaces, stoves, fireplaces, etc. are clear of snow build up.
  • Never run a car or truck in a closed garage, or in a garage that is attached to a house.

Exposure

  • If your CO alarm activates or you experience symptoms that you think could be from CO poisoning,
    • Get fresh air immediately. Open doors and windows, turn off appliances, and leave the house.
    • Call for help and check to see if anyone in the home is experiencing symptoms.

Internet Resources

Injury Prevention Service, OSDH, 1000 NE 10th Street, Oklahoma City, OK 73117
Revised October 2011

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