Carbon Monoxide Exposures in the U.S. May Have Been Under-estimated

Carbon monoxide is a leading cause of unintentional poisoning in the U. S. according to a new CDC report, which finds the number of cases have been under estimated.  The report included statistics from the National Poison Data System and finds about 45% of the cases reported to poison centers between 2000 and 2009 were treated on site and not in a medical facility.  

Exposures occur more frequently between November and February among people in the Midwest and Northeast and most happen at home.

Dr. Jeneita Bell, CDC Medical Officer and co-author of the report says those exposed to carbon monoxide are mostly women and children, but the analysis shows men are more likely to die from CO exposure.  

Dr. Bell says some data sources identify older men as being more at risk, but others identify younger men, where they engage in more activities using portable generators or carbon monoxide-emitting devices like pressure washers.

Dr. Bell says during power outages, several issues can lead to a higher risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. Using portable generators too close to a home can allow the odorless, colorless gas to seep inside. She says they also found cases where people used charcoal grills inside as sources of heat and cooking.

Dr. Bell says there are also places outside the home where people may not realize they’re at risk, such as boats with motors that produce carbon monoxide.

Dr. Bell says all homes should have a battery-powered carbon monoxide alarms. She says they should be serviced on a regular basis.

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