- The Washington Times - Monday, January 13, 2003

The risk of carbon monoxide poisoning in homes increases dramatically during the winter, toxicologists and home-safety advocates said after two recent deaths in Fairfax County.
They also said the deaths of Anh Phuong Tran, 28, and her 8-month-old baby, Amy Ho, in their home in the Rose Hill area on Thursday proves that many people are unaware of the hazard.
"People know it exists, but only 27 percent of households in America have carbon monoxide alarms," said Amy Knight, a spokeswoman for Kidde, a North Carolina-based company that has conducted a survey on the issue.
"Carbon monoxide has been in the news, but people still really don't do anything about it," she said. "They really have the 'it won't happen to me' attitude."
Mrs. Knight also said carbon monoxide (CO) incidents "skyrocket" in the winter.
That's when people typically hibernate indoors using space heaters, furnaces and generators while keeping their windows tightly closed.
Kidde, which promotes home-safety products such as CO detectors, released a statement last week citing the gas as the "silent killer" and the leading cause of accidental poisoning death in the United States, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The American Association of Poison Control says CO claims more than 2,000 lives a year and accounts for about 40,000 emergency-room visits.
Studies at the University of Illinois Hospital in Chicago found that nearly 5 percent of adults who visited the emergency room during the winter and complained of headaches were suffering from early symptoms of CO poisoning.
"It is so readily available inside the home, [coming from] faulty appliances usually," said Dr. Jerrold Leikin, a professor of medicine at Northwestern School of Medicine in Chicago who is the senior editor of Poisoning and Toxicology Handbook.
"Carbon monoxide is one of the few types of poisons that can enter your body without you knowing, thus most deaths occur at night, while people are sleeping," he said. "You can't smell it and it's not irritating, so you won't be coughing. There's no odor to it and it's colorless, so it truly is the silent killer in that way."
Fossil-fuel-burning appliances gas ovens, kerosene space heaters, wood-burning fireplaces emit CO as a natural byproduct of combustion. If the appliance malfunctions, or a furnace develops cracks, or a chimney gets blocked, toxic amounts of the gas can seep into the air inside a home.
Toxicologists also have said patients with CO poisoning are often misdiagnosed because the symptoms are similar to flu symptoms.
"If multiple individuals in a house exhibit flulike symptoms or food poisoning symptoms, carbon monoxide should be considered," Dr. Leikin said.
Home-safety advocates and toxicologists recommend the following steps to prevent toxic CO levels:
Install an electronic carbon monoxide monitor with an audible warning signal near sleeping areas. Make sure it is approved by the Underwriters Laboratory.
Make sure fossil-fuel-burning appliances are properly installed and operating.
Have your heating system and chimney inspected and cleaned every year.
Don't burn charcoal inside your house or barbecue inside, even in the fireplace.
Don't operate gasoline-powered engines, including cars, in confined areas, such as garages or basements.
Don't use ovens, household appliances, stoves, cooktops, kerosene space heaters to heat a home.
Dr. Leikin said that homeowners also should recognize that hot-water heaters and gas dryers can be sources for CO, if improperly vented.

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