Carbon monoxide (CO) is often called “the silent killer” because it is an odorless and colorless gas. Every year more than 400 people in the United States die from CO poisoning not linked to fires and more than 4,000 are hospitalized, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

CO is produced when you burn fuel in vehicles, small engines, stoves, lanterns, grills, gas ranges, furnaces and fireplaces. CO can build up indoors and poison people and animals who breathe it. In some cases, fatal levels of CO can be produced in minutes.

Brian Churchill, EMT-P, BSHA, CHEC, St. John’s Hospital EMS and emergency management facilitator, says as the weather becomes colder people are turning up their heating systems and need to use caution. 

“Everyone is at risk for CO poisoning,” says Churchill. “It’s important to know the symptoms so you can recognize them because you can’t easily identify CO like you can with smoke from a fire or the smell of mercaptan, which is added to natural gas so it gives off the smell of rotten eggs.”  

Symptoms of CO poisoning include:

  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Upset stomach/vomiting
  • Confusion
  • Weakness
  • Loss of consciousness

Tips to prevent CO poisoning include:

  • Annual checks of your heating system, water heater and other gas or coal-burning appliances by a qualified technician
  • Install battery operated CO detectors in your home
  • Never use a generator inside your home, basement or garage, or less than 20 feet from a window, door or vent
  • Never use a portable gas camp stove indoors
  • Have chimneys cleaned annually by a professional, and be sure your damper is open before lighting a fire
  • Never use a gas oven to heat your home
  • Never let your car run idle while in the garage or other enclosed space

If you or a loved one experiences any of the above symptoms, call 911 or get to an emergency room as soon as possible. St. John’s emergency department, 800 E. Carpenter Street, is open 24/7 to provide care.

For more information about CO poisoning and prevention tips, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. 

Media Contact

Jennifer Snopko

Manager - Marketing and Communications
HSHS St. John's Hospital
Office: (217) 814-7857
jennifer.snopko@hshs.org

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