The Kansas Department of Health and Environment says people should install carbon monoxide alarms in their homes this winter to protect their families.
In January 2010, six members of a Wichita family were hospitalized because of carbon monoxide poisoning from a faulty furnace. That same year, in October, four homeless men were found dead in a van at Santa Fe Lake in Butler County after they left the engine running overnight.
While most houses are equipped with fire alarms, said Cherie Sage, state director of Safe Kids Kansas, it is just as important to install CO detectors.
“Generally, when you have a fire, there’s something sensory; you know something’s wrong,” Sage said. “With carbon monoxide, often you have no idea you’re being poisoned, in some cases until it’s too late.”
The health department recommends that CO monitors be placed outside every sleeping area and at least 15 feet away from all fuel-burning appliances.
“It’s particularly dangerous when you’re sleeping,” Sage said. “You can be overwhelmed by CO in the night without even having the chance to get out of the house.”
According to the KDHE, about 450 people in the U.S. die every year from CO poisoning and nearly 20,000 require emergency treatment for non-fatal poisonings. In Kansas, four people have died and more than 500 have been hospitalized in the past 10 years because of CO poisoning.
Children are most susceptible to CO poisoning; more than 25 die annually because of it.
“It is especially lethal for unborn children,” said Donald Paget, medical training officer for the Sedgwick County Fire Department, since a small amount may not affect the mother but can be lethal to a fetus.
The symptoms of CO poisoning are similar to flu symptoms: nausea, headaches, weakness, dizziness, chest pain and confusion. Consequently, many cases of CO poisoning are misdiagnosed, Paget said.
“Flu is a very common problem during the winter, and it can easily be confused,” Paget said. “We need to take care of it before we see the fatal symptoms, like cherry-red skin.”
Improperly serviced fuel-burning appliances can cause dangerous levels of CO to build up in the home. Those can include furnaces, ovens, space heaters, generators, indoor grills and fireplaces.
“We tend to close up the windows in the wintertime and light fires indoors,” Paget said. “Since we’re so shut up, the carbon monoxide just starts building up in concentration.”
• Make sure heating appliances, especially furnaces, are in good working order and are placed in well-ventilated areas.
• Install a CO alarm outside of every sleeping space and on every level of the home.
Never use an oven to heat living spaces.
• Never place a portable generator inside or in the garage; they must always be used outside.
• Never idle a car in the garage, even with the garage door open.