Odorless, colorless, tasteless… and it can kill you or your loved ones in hours or even minutes: Advice from California Poison Control on preventing carbon monoxide poisoning

The California Poison Control System reminds California residents that there is a higher risk for this “silent killer” during the fall and winter, especially when heating systems run for hours.

Accidental carbon monoxide poisoning sends more than 100,000 people in the U.S. to the ER each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Natural disasters can also cause electrical power outages leading many people to use portable generators, which can increase the risk of death. USAFacts reports that the use of portable generators is associated with 40 percent of carbon monoxide deaths related to consumer products since 2009.

“Carbon monoxide is insidious, and people don’t realize that they are being poisoned,” said Rais Vohra, Medical Director for the Fresno/Madera Division of CPCS. “It’s a colorless, odorless, and tasteless gas produced from burning fuel and totally undetectable to the human senses. But it is completely preventable. There are steps you can take to protect yourself, family, and pets from carbon monoxide poisoning.”

To raise public awareness, California Poison Control offers the following:
Sources of CO:
Carbon monoxide is found in the fumes produced from burning fuel. Common sources include furnaces, portable generators, kerosene heaters, ovens, stoves, gas ranges, and running vehicles in enclosed spaces (such as a garage). It is also found in charcoal and wood burning equipment, such as charcoal or hibachi grills. CO from these sources, as well as malfunctioning or unvented fuel-burning appliances, can build up in enclosed or partially enclosed spaces resulting in CO poisoning. Both people and animals in these spaces can be poisoned and can die from breathing CO.

Preventing CO poisoning:
Install a battery-operated or battery back-up CO detector in your home near sleeping areas. Be sure to check or change the batteries in it regularly to ensure they are functioning properly.

Have your heating system, water heater, and any other gas, oil, or coal burning appliances inspected by a qualified technician every year prior to turning the heat on when winter begins.

Never try to heat your home by turning on the oven or clothes dryer and leaving the door open.

Make sure chimneys and vents are not blocked with tarps, debris, or snowfall.

Never leave the motor running in your vehicle when it is parked in an enclosed or partially enclosed space, such as a garage.

Never use a charcoal grill, hibachi or portable camping stove inside a home, tent, or camper.

Do not cover the bottom of natural gas or propane ovens with aluminum foil.

If a detector goes off, assume that a real danger is present, and get all people and pets out of the structure immediately and into fresh air. Call 911 and seek medical help right away. Do not re-enter until a professional declares it safe.

Recognizing symptoms of CO poisoning:
• Confusion.
• Dizziness.
• Weakness or fatigue.
• Headache.
• Loss of muscle control or consciousness.
• Nausea or vomiting.
• Shortness of breath.

To learn more about prevention and the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning see this CPCS video: https://youtu.be/3BT_hDb4uqE

About CPCS
Call Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222 (number is the same in all states) for questions about poison encounters. Trained pharmacists, nurses and other providers are available to help 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The service is free, confidential and interpreters are available. Get weekly tips about safety by texting TIPS to 20121 for English or texting PUNTOS to 20121 for Spanish. Follow CPCS on Facebookand on Twitter @poisoninfo. CPCS is part of the University of California San Francisco School of Pharmacy and is responsible to the California Emergency Medical Services Authority.