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FOR RELEASE: November 25, 2002
CONTACT: Pamela Williams
405/271-5601

Children at Higher Risk of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Whether you light the fireplace, turn up the furnace, or pull out the space heater to combat the cold, you need to be aware of a silent and potentially fatal killer that could be pervading your home: carbon monoxide.

Colorless, odorless, and tasteless, carbon monoxide can be extremely difficult to detect. It is produced by the incomplete combustion of solid, liquid and gaseous fuels. Household appliances fueled with gas, oil, kerosene or wood may produce carbon monoxide. It can poison or kill before its victims even know it's there.

For children, the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning increases dramatically. Each year, more than 1,700 children ages 5 and under are poisoned by carbon monoxide in the U.S.

"It is important to be overly cautious when using your heating appliances during the winter months," said Martha Collar, coordinator of the Oklahoma SAFE KIDS Coalition, a program of the Oklahoma State Department of Health. "Children are at increased risk of being poisoned by carbon monoxide because it tends to accumulate at low heights. Thus children, who spend more time closer to the floor, are more likely to be affected than adults. Children will also show more pronounced symptoms at any given level of carbon monoxide than will adults. Parents and caregivers must remember that the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning increase when there is less ventilation. "The more air-tight the home, the higher the risk."

Effects of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

The symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning often mimic the flu. Long-term exposure can lead to neurological disorders, memory loss, personality changes and mild to severe forms of brain damage. It is important that parents and caregivers be familiar with the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, which include headaches, fatigue, dizziness, nausea and diarrhea. Be aware of symptoms that disappear once the child is out of the house or symptoms that affect the entire household at the same time. Be sure to check with your physician if any of the above occurs.

How to Prevent Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

SAFE KIDS recommends the following steps to keep the home and family safe and prevent possible poisoning:

  • Install at least one carbon monoxide detector in the house. A carbon monoxide detector is designed to sound an alarm before dangerous levels of carbon monoxide accumulate in the home. A carbon monoxide detector should give you ample time to ventilate the home or get out in time before it's too late. Detectors should be placed in bedrooms and on the ceiling above fuel-burning appliances. Additional detectors on every level provide extra protection.
  • Have a professional install and inspect the home heating system at the beginning of each winter season. They should check that the furnace is not cracked or missing panels or flue caps to be sure exhaust gases can escape from the home properly.
  • Never operate gas-powered engines in confined spaces. Never let a car run in an attached garage, even if the garage door is open.
  • Have your household fuel-burning appliances checked. Look at the color of the gas burner flames and pilot lights. A yellow-colored flame indicates the fuel isn't burning efficiently and could be releasing a higher than usual amount of carbon monoxide.

If Your Carbon Monoxide Detector Sounds the Alarm

If your alarm sounds and you and/or a family member are feeling symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, carbon monoxide is at potentially dangerous levels in the home:

  • Leave the house immediately. Develop and practice a home evacuation plan that includes a meeting place so that all family members can be accounted for.
  • Call the fire department, local utility company or local emergency medical services from a neighbor's home. Do not go back into the house until a firefighter, utility company staff or emergency response personnel tells you it's okay to do so.

If your detector sounds the alarm and you and/or a family member are not feeling any symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning:

  • Ventilate the home by opening windows, doors and turning on fans.
  • Turn off any combustion appliances immediately.
  • Call an appliance repair technician to find the source of carbon monoxide.

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