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Every year, more than 400 people die in the U. S. from accidental CO poisoning.

When power outages occur during emergencies such as hurricanes or winter storms, the use of alternative sources of fuel or electricity for heating, cooling, or cooking can cause CO to build up in a home, garage, or camper and to poison the people and animals inside.

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a poisonous gas that can kill you in minutes. It is invisible, tasteless, odorless and non-irritating. CO is found in combustion fumes, such as those produced by small gasoline engines, stoves, generators, lanterns, and gas ranges, or by burning charcoal and wood. CO from these sources can build up in enclosed or partially enclosed spaces. People and animals in these spaces can be poisoned and can die from breathing CO.

Carbon monoxide is known as the "silent killer". It can prevent the body from getting oxygen. Symptoms can be flu-like; nausea, headache, dizziness, shortness of breath, sleepiness and weakness. People who are sleeping or who have been drinking alcohol can die from CO poisoning before ever having symptoms. In large amounts, Carbon monoxide can cause loss of consciousness, brain damage or death.

Public Health suggests these safety tips to help prevent carbon monoxide poisoning:

  • Never use a gas range or oven to heat a home.
  • Never leave the motor running in a vehicle parked in an enclosed or partially enclosed space, such as a garage.
  • Never run a motor vehicle, generator, pressure washer, or any gasoline-powered engine outside an open window, door, or vent where exhaust can vent into an enclosed area.
  • Never run a generator, pressure washer, or any gasoline-powered engine inside a basement, garage, or other enclosed structure, even if the doors or windows are open, unless the equipment is professionally installed and vented. Keep vents and flues free of debris, especially if winds are high. Flying debris can block ventilation lines.
  • Never use a charcoal grill, hibachi, lantern, or portable camping stove inside a home, tent, or camper.
  • If conditions are too hot or too cold, seek shelter with friends or at a community shelter.
  • If CO poisoning is suspected, consult a health care professional right away.

Working carbon monoxide detector alarms provide you and your family with warning signals and critical time to escape your house in case of a carbon monoxide incident. Place carbon monoxide alarms in a central location outside each sleeping area and on every level of your home. Test all alarms every month to make sure they are working properly.

If you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning:

  • Open all windows and doors.
  • Get out of the building and into fresh air.
  • Call 911 if you or someone else is experiencing symptoms, or take the ill person to the emergency room. Tell the physician you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning.

Don't let having a carbon monoxide detector lead you into having a false sense of security. Preventing the problem is better than relying on an alarm. More information on the CDC website*.