Connecticut issues reminders about CO dangers

With cold weather approaching, the state Department of Public Health reminded residents Friday about the dangers of carbon monoxide and encouraged residents to have their heating systems serviced and carbon monoxide detectors installed in their homes.

The department also warned against the improper use of portable generators during power outages.

"Every winter in Connecticut, hundreds of residents are taken to the emergency department and some are hospitalized and even die due to CO poisoning resulting from malfunctioning furnaces, improperly placed portable generators and indoor use of charcoal grills," Brian Toal, epidemiologist with the public health department, said in a news release.

After Tropical Storm Irene and the October 2011 snowstorm left much of the state without electricity last year, Connecticut saw one of the largest outbreaks of carbon monoxide poisonings in the nation, according to the release.

The state health department collected 143 laboratory reports of CO poisonings, including five deaths, in the 12 days after the October snowstorm. Only 35 percent of the people involved in the CO poisoning cases interviewed after last year's October snowstorm reported having a CO detector in their home, the department said.

CO is an invisible, odorless gas that can be fatal. Often times, CO detectors are the only way to know that the deadly gas is present. Opening windows and doors, and using fans, is not sufficient to prevent the build-up of deadly levels of carbon monoxide, the department warned.

Symptoms of CO poisoning mimic those of the flu, including headache, fatigue, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, or loss of consciousness.

To prevent CO poisoning, the department recommends:

• Install a carbon monoxide detector near sleeping areas. Install new batteries at least once a year and replace detectors every five years as the sensors degrade.

• Have your heating systems, chimney flues, gas appliances and generators checked every year, and cleaned and serviced as needed by qualified heating and appliance contractors.

• Never use portable generators, pressure washer engines, or other gasoline-powered equipment (including tools) inside your home, garage, carport, basement or other enclosed spaces. Be sure to place portable generators at least 20 feet from your home.

• Use gasoline-powered equipment outside and away from doors, windows or air intake vents.

• Use grilling apparatus such as charcoal or gas grills outdoors only.

• Get out of the house and seek medical help immediately if you or a family member has unexplained/sudden onset of symptoms of CO poisoning.

• Call 911 from a cellphone or neighbor's home and the Connecticut Poison Control Center at (800) 222-1222.

For more information, call (860) 509-7742 or visit www.ct.gov/dph/co or poisoncontrol.uchc.edu. Information can also be found at the Consumer Product Safety Commission's website, at www.cpsc.gov.

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