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Video Icon Dr. Marc Bayer discussing the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning on NBC Connecticut.

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Health Center Today, November 13, 2009

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Commonly Misdiagnosed Because Symptoms Mimic the Flu – Important to Have CO Detector in Home

By Carolyn Pennington

The Connecticut Poison Control Center at the Health Center is issuing an important reminder that as temperatures dip, the danger of carbon monoxide poisoning rises. “With the days getting colder, homeowners are using their furnaces, stoves, and fireplaces – all of which produce carbon monoxide,” warns Dr. Marc Bayer, toxicologist and medical director of the Poison Center. “Without proper ventilation or improper combustion, heating systems can also cause dangerous levels of carbon monoxide.” It is poisonous and can be lethal. It is particularly dangerous because you can’t smell, see or taste it.

Early symptoms of CO poisoning include headache, nausea, unclear thinking, shortness of breath, weakness, and loss of muscle control. These symptoms often mimic the flu, leading to misdiagnosis by both patient and physician. Be mindful of CO poisoning if symptoms vanish when you leave your regular indoor environment. Severe symptoms can include convulsions and unconsciousness that can lead to death.

Bayer recommends that homeowners have their heating systems, wood stoves and fireplaces inspected and cleaned, and any worn or faulty parts replaced, to minimize the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. He strongly recommends carbon monoxide detectors. “Everyone should have a carbon monoxide detector in their living space and in their bedroom areas,” he says. “People are especially at risk while sleeping. A CO detector is a simple and economical precaution that can save lives.”

If your CO detector alarm goes off, or if you experience symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, go outside immediately. Use your cell phone or a neighbor’s phone to call your local fire department or 911.