The New Mexico Poison and Drug Information Center at the UNM College of Pharmacy fielded 246 carbon monoxide exposures during 2016, and December was the heaviest month, with 72 exposures. As temperatures cool, the poison center would like to remind New Mexicans how to protect themselves from carbon monoxide poisoning.
Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless and tasteless gas emitted by all fuel-burning appliances and equipment. Carbon monoxide poisoning can cause permanent damage to the brain and nervous system tissue, and can result in death. Symptoms can mimic the flu – headache, dizziness, aches and confusion – but carbon monoxide poisoning does not produce fever or diarrhea.
Since carbon monoxide gas is undetectable by human senses, and the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are shared with other seasonal illnesses, prevention and early detection of exposure to the poison gas is crucial. Please take the following precautions to prevent and/or minimize the effects of carbon monoxide poisoning:
- Properly install a carbon-monoxide detector on each floor and outside of every sleeping area of your home. If the alarm sounds on a detector, turn off all fuel-burning devices, open doors and windows, and vacate the premises immediately until the source can be identified and repaired by a qualified technician. Inexpensive detectors can be found at any hardware store.
- Have your furnace, fireplace, chimney, wood stoves, flues and other fuel-burning appliances inspected, adjusted and repaired, if needed, before every heating season.
- Do not use charcoal grills indoors (including inside a tent, car or garage) for either cooking or heating – even if the door(s) are open.
- Do not use your oven to heat your home, or put foil underneath a gas oven, as this interferes with combustion. Do not use your clothes dryer to heat your home.
- Do not attempt to warm up your car by letting the engine run in an enclosed or attached garage – even if the door(s) are open.
- Do not run a generator in your home, garage or crawlspace. Ventilating the area by opening windows and doors or using fans will not prevent the accumulation of carbon monoxide gas.
- Contact the New Mexico Gas Company immediately at 888-NM-GAS-CO (888-664-2726) to report a gas related emergency. Refer to the New Mexico Gas Company website to learn more about carbon monoxide safety and what to look for when shopping for a carbon monoxide detector.
If you think you or someone you know has been exposed to carbon monoxide gas, call the New Mexico Poison and Drug Information Center immediately at 1-800-222-1222. Our poison center is staffed with specially trained pharmacists who are prepared to respond with information and treatment advice about carbon monoxide poisoning.