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Is It Carbon Monoxide Poisoning or the Flu?

Unfortunately, every winter we hear the news that someone has lost their life to carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. It easily happens because carbon monoxide is odorless, colorless, and tasteless. CO is responsible for half the fatal poisonings in the United States each year.

CO is produced by incomplete combustion of fuels such as oil, propane, coal, wood, natural gas, gasoline, diesel fuel, charcoal, and kerosene.

Faulty or inadequately vented vehicles and appliances that use these fuels - such as fuel fired furnaces (non-electric), gas water heaters, gas dryers, gas stoves, fireplaces, woodstoves, charcoal grills, kerosene heaters, gasoline powered vehicles, lawn mowers, and snow blowers - can produce deadly amounts of carbon monoxide.

Carbon monoxide inhibits the blood's ability to carry oxygen to body tissues including vital organs such as the heart and brain. Carbon monoxide is especially dangerous for children, older adults and people who have heart or respiratory conditions.

It can cause headaches, nausea, fatigue, dizziness, drowsiness, and burning eyes. Prolonged exposure causes more severe symptoms, including confusion, disorientation, convulsions, and unconsciousness. In very severe cases, it can be fatal.

Many times the minor symptoms of CO poisoning are misdiagnosed or confused with the typical flu symptoms. If you feel better when you leave home and the symptoms come back again when you return home, chances are it is CO poisoning and not the flu that you are experiencing.

If you experience any of the above symptoms, get immediate medical help by calling 911. Some other warning signs you may have are: stale or stuffy air, excessive moisture on windows and walls, soot buildup around appliance vents, and an abnormal gas flame at appliances.

If your home has any type of fuel burning appliance and you have not installed a carbon monoxide detector, this should be a top priority on your "to do" list.