In the depths of winter, as the mercury in your thermometer plummets, the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning increases.
With homes shut to the elements and with fuel burning to keep them warm, Minnesota always sees an uptick in CO poisoning cases at this time of year.
The latest came in St. Paul on Monday, and saw 10 people hospitalized with suspected CO poisoning with a faulty boiler believed to be behind the leak, according to FOX 9.
Carbon monoxide is odorless so it's hard to notice, and those living in a place without CO detectors often only find out there's a leak when they're suffering the effects of poisoning – and it can be fatal.
As the Centers for Disease Control notes, carbon monoxide can be found in fumes from fuel-burning appliances such as gas stoves, furnaces, fireplaces, grills and lanterns, as well as car, trucks and other small engines.
The first step to protect yourself at home is to make sure there are several carbon monoxide detectors set up, ideally where one will wake you up if it goes off.
What symptoms should you look for?
CO poisoning can appear over the course of several days. If a lot of it is breathed in over a short time period (i.e. when asleep or drunk) it can kill you before signs become apparent.
Here are the symptoms that present in someone with CO poisoning:
- Upset stomach
- Chest pain
- Breathing problems
The CDC says they're often considered "flu-like," which is another reason CO poisoning can be undiagnosed during the winter.
Those most at risk are infants, the elderly, and people with chronic heart disease, anemia or breathing problems.
If you suspect a CO leak, Gas Safe Register urges you to call 911 and get fresh air into the house immediately, opening doors and windows while turning off gas appliances. Then leave the residence.
You should also seek medical help ASAP. Doctors can do a blood or breath test to check for CO poisoning.
How else can I protect myself?
As well as having CO detectors (tested and batteries replaced regularly), the CDC says there are a few other ways you can protect yourself from CO poisoning at home.
– Have your furnace, water heater and any gas/coal/oil-burning appliances serviced every year by a qualified technician.
– Make sure your gas appliances are vented properly.
– Have your chimney checked/cleaned every year. They can be blocked by debris, causing CO to build up inside your home.
– Don't use a gas range or oven to heat your home, cabin or camper.
– Don't burn charcoals indoors ... it gives off CO. Ditto with using portable gas camp stoves indoors.
– Don't use a generator inside your home, or anywhere outdoors that's within 20 feet of a window, door or vent.