U campaigns against silent killer

Approximately 300 people in the U.S. die of carbon monoxide poisoning each year.

Jamie VanGeest

A University student recently came to see Victoria Erhart, a physician at Boynton Health Service Women’s Clinic.

The patient complained of headaches. She told Erhart her boyfriend also had headaches. Both had spent considerable time in the patient’s apartment.

As it turned out, a portable heater in the apartment was exposing the patient and her boyfriend to carbon monoxide, Erhart said.

Approximately 300 people in the United States die each year of carbon monoxide poisoning, and thousands more end up in hospitals because of exposure, according to the National Safety Council.

Carbon monoxide is produced by the incomplete combustion of fuels containing carbon. Examples of fuels with carbon include wood, charcoal, natural gas and fuel oil, according to the council.

Carbon monoxide exposure can come from furnaces, water heaters, wood or gas stoves, car exhaust from attached garages and gas or kerosene space heaters, the council reports.

Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas that interferes with the blood’s ability to deliver oxygen to the body, according to the council.

Symptoms of exposure to carbon monoxide include fatigue, headache, weakness, confusion, disorientation, nausea and dizziness, the council reported.

Exposure can also cause problems with coordination and can make a preexisting heart condition worse. There is a link between carbon monoxide and Parkinson’s disease, said Kathleen Norlien, a research scientist for the Minnesota Department of Health.

Another risk factor for carbon monoxide poisoning is a lack of proper ventilation in a building.

The rise of heating costs could cause more carbon monoxide poisonings, Norlien said.

More people are trying to insulate their houses to conserve heat, but this could also keep the carbon monoxide in the house, she said.

“Another thing that is notorious for carbon monoxide poisoning are ice-fishing houses,” Norlien said.

A lot of people use portable heaters in ice houses, which combines carbon monoxide and a small space, she said.

Norlien recommends that if a person thinks they’ve been exposed to carbon monoxide, they should leave the house immediately and call 911.

To deal with the carbon monoxide in the house, a person can call the fire department or their local utility company.

Norlien said the best way to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning is to have a carbon monoxide detector.

Boynton is starting an awareness campaign to inform students about the dangers of carbon monoxide.

Physician Carol Nelson of the Women’s Clinic brought up the idea for a campaign after her friend’s daughter, a student at the University of Wisconsin- Madison, became ill after being exposed to carbon monoxide from an old gas refrigerator.

As a part of the awareness campaign, Boynton will sell carbon monoxide detectors for $20.