ATLANTA - A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that carbon monoxide (CO) exposures and poisonings occur more often during the fall and winter, when people are more likely to use gas furnaces, heaters, and generators in their homes.

The study finds that in years 2001-2003 approximately 480 U.S. residents died each year from non-fire-related CO poisoning. In addition an estimated 15,200 persons with confirmed or possible non-fire-related CO exposure or poisoning were treated annually in U.S. hospital emergency departments.

The most CO exposures occur during the winter months with the highest numbers occurring during December with an annual average of 56 deaths and 2,157 non-fatal exposures and in January with an average of 69 deaths and 2,511 non-fatal exposures.

Although males and females were equally likely to visit emergency departments for CO exposure, males were 2.3 times more likely to die from CO exposure.

Males might be exposed to high CO levels during high-risk activities such as working in enclosed garages with generators or power tools, the study says.

The CO poisoning death rate was highest among people over 65 and likely attributable to their being at higher risk for undetected CO exposure. Symptoms of CO exposure often resemble those associated with other health conditions that are common among the elderly and they may not seek prompt medical attention for undetected CO exposures, says the CDC.

The most common symptoms of CO exposure are nausea, headache, and dizziness and they can be easily mistaken for other conditions such as a viral illness. The more severe symptoms including loss of consciousness, shortness of breath, and loss of muscle control are often not reported. The study concludes with a call for public education to prevent CO exposure.

Publication date: 02/07/2005