The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describes carbon monoxide as an odorless, colorless gas, which can cause sudden illness and death and is produced any time a fossil fuel is burned.
The CDC says it works with national, state, local, and other partners to raise awareness about CO poisoning and to monitor CO-related illness and death in the U.S.
In the wake of the tragic Oct. 26 carbon monoxide poisoning deaths of Los Gatos resident Gary F. Trovinger and friend Albert Senzatimore in a Tahoe Donner subdivision home in the town of Truckee, police officials are urging everyone to install a CO detector and learn more about the deadly gas.
Trovinger, 57, and Senzatimore, 69, of San Jose, were found dead by Truckee police officers dispatched to the home to do a welfare check.
CO is found in combustion fumes, such as those produced by cars and trucks, small gasoline engines, stoves, lanterns, burning charcoal and wood, and gas ranges and heating systems. CO from these sources can build up in enclosed or semi-enclosed spaces. People and animals in these spaces can be poisoned by breathing it.
The most common symptoms of CO poisoning are headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain, and confusion. High levels of CO inhalation can cause loss of consciousness and death. Unless suspected, CO poisoning can be difficult to diagnose because the symptoms mimic other illnesses. People who are sleeping or intoxicated can die from CO poisoning before ever experiencing symptoms.
The CDC recommends taking the following steps to prevent carbon monoxide exposure:
- Do have your heating system, water heater and any other gas, oil, or coal burning appliances serviced by a qualified technician every year.
- Do install a battery-operated or battery back-up CO detector in your home and check or replace the battery when you change the time on your clocks each spring and fall. If the detector sounds leave your home immediately and call 911.
- Do seek prompt medical attention if you suspect CO poisoning and are feeling dizzy, light-headed, or nauseous.
- Don't use a generator, charcoal grill, camp stove, or other gasoline or charcoal-burning device inside your home, basement, or garage or near a window.
- Don't run a car or truck inside a garage attached to your house, even if you leave the door open.
- Don't burn anything in a stove or fireplace that isn't vented.
- Don't heat your house with a gas oven.
As of July 1, 2011, the California “Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Prevention Act” requires owners of all single-family homes with an attached garage or a fossil fuel source to install CO detectors in the home.
And owners of multi-family leased or rental dwellings had until Jan. 1, 2013, to comply with the law.
California is reportedly among 25 states that have statutes requiring carbon monoxide detectors in certain residential buildings.
According to the CDC, more than 400 Americans die each year from unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning, more than 20,000 visit the emergency room and more than 4,000 are hospitalized.
Fatality is highest among Americans 65 and older.