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Disease Prevention

Tips To Avoid Carbon Monoxide Poisoning This Winter

It's known as the silent killer. Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless and tasteless toxic gas produced as a by-product of combustion. Accidental deaths from carbon monoxide poisoning tend to rise this time of year, when people turn on their furnaces as the temperature drops.

Last year, the Allegheny County Health Department reported 28 cases of carbon monoxide poisoning. Of those occurrences, 23 were heating-related. How can you safeguard yourself this winter? Using some common sense and advance planning can help.

Kevin O'Toole, F.A.C.E.P., associate professor pf emergency medicine and director of the hyperbaric medicine program at UPMC Health System, offers these suggestions on how to protect you and your family:

  • Don't leave your car running inside your garage, even if the door is open. If you are trying to warm up your car, park it outside first.

  • Be sure to check your furnace and other gas-powered utilities before the start of the winter season. Make sure there are no cracks or leaks in any of them.

  • Inspect your chimney to be sure it isn't clogged up and have it professionally cleaned each year so smoke doesn't back up in the home.

  • Buy a carbon monoxide detector and install one on each floor of your home. If you already have one, remember to replace the batteries to keep it functioning properly.

  • If family members share common symptoms, such as dizziness, nausea, blurred vision or headache, do not assume it's just the flu. If you suspect it might be carbon monoxide poisoning, immediately call your local emergency number or 911 and evacuate your house.

"Carbon monoxide poisoning is the leading cause of poisonous deaths in the United States. However, it is preventable if the warning signs are recognized," Dr. O'Toole said.

Several manufacturers offer toll-free numbers to learn how to install a carbon monoxide detector in your home. Local fire or police departments are also good sources for additional information.

For more information visit the UPMC Web site at

Copyright 1999 Health Resources Publishing

© 2000 Health Resources Publishing