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Carbon Monoxide Poisoning: Safety Tips to Use Year-Round

Know as a "quiet killer," CO is found in the fumes created when fuel burning in cars, portable generators, stoves, lanterns, fireplaces, and even water heaters are used

The blast of polar air that enveloped much of the Midwest on Wednesday spread into the Northeast Thursday, putting 120 million people across 27 states are under wind chill warnings or advisories.

When winter temperatures plummet, the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning increases, according to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In Chicago, six people in a residential building were hospitalized Wednesday from carbon monoxide poisoning. The Chicago Fire Department said two people were in serious-to-critical condition and four in fair-to-serious condition

Know as a "quiet killer," CO is found in the fumes created when fuel burning in cars, portable generators, stoves, BBQ grills, lanterns, fireplaces, and even water heaters are used. It can't can't be seen or smelled. The gas is poisonous and can be fatal for anyone who inhales it, although the elderly, infants, and chronically sick are more at risk.

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Each year more than 400 people die from unintentional CO poisoning and another 50,000 visit the emergency room, according to the CDC. The most common symptoms of CO poisoning include headache, dizziness, weakness, upset stomach, vomiting, chest pain, and confusion, according to the CDC. The CO poisoning symptoms are often described as “flu-like.” If you have symptoms that you think could be the result of CO poisoning, leave the area immediately, and call 911 or go to the emergency room.

People who are sleeping can die from CO poisoning before they become aware of any symptoms. There are steps you can take to keep you and your family safer from the risk of poisoning. 

Take a look at safety tips from the CDC and nonprofit child safety organization that you can use all year-round: 

CO Tips for the Car

  • Annually take your car to a mechanic to have the exhaust system inspected -- small leaks can lead to trouble inside of the car.
  • Never run your car inside of the garage, even with the garage door open.
  • When opening the tailgate on your vehicles, make sure vents or windows are open to allow CO from the exhaust to circulate and not get trapped inside of the vehicle.
  • When inclement weather strikes, make sure the tailpipe of your car is not blocked with snow, ice, or other debris before turning the engine on. Don't allow others to wait inside a running car while clearing snow from around the vehicle.
Getty, Jessica Glazer
  • Be careful with keyless or push-start vehicles as even if the key fob is indoors, the vehicle outside could be running.
  • Make sure children are not playing near the exhaust pipe of a running vehicle and always keep vehicles locked with keys out of reach of children who may want to play inside.

CO Tips for the Home

  • Install a battery-operated CO detector in your home and be sure to place it somewhere where it will wake you if it goes off. The CDC advised to check or replace the battery twice a year when clocks are changed for daylight saving. Detectors should be replaced every five years.
  • Annually service your heating system and water heater by a professional to ensure fuels are burning properly.
  • Check your chimney each year as build-up debris can cause blockage and in turn trap CO in your house.
Getty, Jessica Glazer
  • Don't use portable gas stoves designed for outdoor camping, or any other gasoline or charcoal-burning device, inside your home.
  • If you have a generator anywhere in your home, make sure it is less than 20 feet from a ventilation system like a door, window or a vent.  
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