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Fact Sheet

January 20, 2005 Contact: CDC NCEH/ATSDR
Media Relations: 404-498-0070

Study: Unintentional Non-Fire-Related Carbon Monoxide Exposures United States, 20012003

CDC Report Finds Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Highest
During Cold Weather

Carbon monoxide (CO) exposures and poisonings occur more often during the fall and winter, when people are more likely to use gas furnaces, heaters and generators in their homes. This study finds that in years 2001-2003 approximately 480 U.S. residents died, each year from non-fire-related CO poisoning. In addition an estimated 15,200 persons with confirmed or possible non-fire-related CO exposure or poisoning were treated annually in U.S. hospital emergency departments.

The most CO exposures occur during the winter months with the highest numbers occurring during December with an annual average of 56 deaths and 2,157 non-fatal exposures and in January with an average of 69 deaths and 2,511 non-fatal exposures.

Although males and females were equally likely to visit emergency departments for CO exposure, males were 2.3 times more likely to die from CO exposure.

Males might be exposed to high CO levels during high risk activities such as working in enclosed garages with generators or power tools.

The CO poisoning death rate was highest among people over 65 and likely attributed to their being at higher risk for undetected CO exposure. Symptoms of CO exposure often resemble those associated with other health conditions that are common among the elderly and they may not seek prompt medical attention for undetected CO exposures.

The most common symptoms of CO exposure are nausea, headache and dizziness and they can be easily mistaken for other conditions such as a viral illness. The more severe symptoms including loss of consciousness, shortness of breath and loss of muscle control are often not reported. The study concludes with a call for public education to prevention CO exposure.

Strategies to Prevent Carbon Monoxide Exposure:

  • Have your heating system, water heater, and any other gas-, oil-, or coal-burning appliances serviced by a qualified technician every year.
  • Install a battery-operated CO detector in your home and check or replace the battery when you change the time on your clocks each spring and fall.
  • If your CO detector sounds, evacuate your home immediately and telephone 911.
  • Seek prompt medical attention if you suspect CO poisoning and are feeling dizzy, light-headed, or nauseated.
  • Do not use a generator, charcoal grill, camp stove, or other gasoline- or charcoal-burning device inside your home, basement, or garage or near a window.
  • Do not run a car or truck inside a garage attached to your house, even if you leave the door open.
  • Do not burn anything in a stove or fireplace that is not vented.
  • Do not heat your house with a gas oven.

The study appears in the Jan. 21 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

For more information about carbon monoxide poisoning and prevention visit www.cdc.gov/nceh/airpollution/carbonmonoxide/guidelines.htm

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