Carbon monoxide poisoning on rise post-Sandy

Unsafe use of generators since Hurricane Sandy has sent more than a dozen people to local hospitals for treatment of carbon monoxide poisoning.

The William W. Backus Hospital in Norwich has treated at least 10 patients for carbon monoxide poisoning since the storm, spokesman Shawn Mawhiney said Friday.

Dr. Robert Sidman, chief of emergency services at Backus, said all the patients were treated and released after receiving oxygen therapy. None had CO blood levels high enough to require more advanced treatment in a hyperbaric chamber. Symptoms included headache, dizziness, confusion and general weakness. Severe CO poisoning can cause heart attack, stroke and death.

"People are putting generators in their garages, but if it's in the garage, the CO is going to get into your house because it's a gas," Dr. Sidman said.

The hospital advised that anyone using a portable generator make sure it is outside the house and garage and away from windows. According to the state Department of Public Health, generators should be at least 10 feet from the house and away from doors, windows, vents and air-conditioning units. Since CO is a colorless, odorless gas, people are advised to install CO detectors in their homes.

Lawrence & Memorial Hospital has seen about six cases of CO poisoning since the storm, Dr. Oliver Mayorga, chairman of the Emergency Department, said Friday. All the patients were treated with oxygen therapy and released.

One or two of the patients were children, who can be more seriously affected by carbon monoxide because of their small size, he said. Some of the patients became ill because of CO fumes from generators running in basements.

The Westerly Hospital has not had any storm-related CO poisoning cases, spokesman Nick Stahl said.

In addition to CO poisonings, Backus and L&M also have been treating patients for other storm-related injuries including chain saw accidents and back and muscle injuries from cleanup work.

"And we've been seeing a lot of car accidents from people not paying attention at intersections when the lights are out," Dr. Mayorga said.

He urged local residents to be wary of food that may have spoiled during power outages and could cause foodborne illnesses.

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