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Baby's cries save family from deadly CO poisoning

By Sonny Long
May 14, 2012 at 12:14 a.m.
Updated May 15, 2012 at 12:15 a.m.


Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Prevention

• Have fuel-burning appliances inspected by a trained professional at the beginning of every heating season.

• Make certain that flues and chimneys are connected, in good condition and not blocked.

• Choose appliances that vent their fumes to the outside whenever possible, have them properly installed, and maintain them according to manufacturers' instructions.

• Don't idle the car in a garage - even if the garage door to the outside is open. Fumes can build up quickly in the garage and living area of a home.

• Don't use a gas oven to heat your home, even for a short time.

• Don't ever use a charcoal grill indoors - even in a fireplace.

• Don't sleep in any room with an unvented gas or kerosene space heater.

• Don't use any gasoline-powered engines (mowers, weed trimmers, chainsaws, small engines or generators) in enclosed spaces.

• Don't ignore symptoms, particularly if more than one person is feeling them.

SOURCE: Environmental Protection Agency, Indoor Environments Division

DETECTION

• Carbon monoxide detectors are widely available in stores and consumers may want to consider buying one as a back up - but not as a replacement for proper use and maintenance of fuel-burning appliances, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

• Technology of CO detectors is still developing. Several types are on the market and they are not generally considered to be as reliable as smoke detectors.

• Some CO detectors have been laboratory-tested and their performances varied. Some performed well, others failed to alarm even at very high CO levels, and still others alarmed even at very low levels that don't pose any immediate health risk, according to the EPA.

•  CO is invisible and odorless, so it's harder to tell if an alarm is false or a real emergency.

Don't let buying a CO detector lull you into a false sense of security. Preventing CO from becoming a problem is better than relying on an alarm, according to the EPA.

Do some research on features and don't select solely on the basis of cost. Non-governmental organizations such as Consumers Union (publisher of Consumer Reports), the American Gas Association and Underwriters Laboratories (UL) can help you make an informed decision.

Look for UL certification on any detector you purchase, according to the EPA.

A 2-year-old's cries may have saved the lives of the rest of his family early Monday morning.

"When the baby started crying, I thought maybe he was having a nightmare because he never cries during the night," said Sheila Canales.

But Canales knew Jayden Fuentez's cries were more than a bad dream when her 16-year-old daughter crawled into her bedroom.

"She couldn't move her legs and she was throwing up," Canales said. "I tried to get up and I collapsed. At that point I knew it was carbon monoxide."

The 16-year-old, Mariah Flores, used her mother's cell phone to call 911. They woke up her sister Alexia Flores, 17.

"It was dreamlike. Our bodies wouldn't allow us to move, so we crawled to the front door," Canales said.

Victoria Emergency Medical Services personnel were already at the door in the 2300 block of Ozark Street by the time the family reached it.

"Their CO detectors were beeping wildly when they came in. If we had stayed in here 30 more minutes, I hate to think...," said Canales, her voice dropping off before she finished the sentence.

"I thank God they got here so quickly," Canales, 38, said. "They gave us oxygen right away and sat us outside."

According to the Victoria Fire Department report, two of the patients had significant signs and symptoms of CO poisoning. The other three had minor to moderate signs.

The residence registered high levels of CO during inspection by fire department personnel, according to the report.

The gas service to the residence was secured and the gas company was notified. The home was also filled with fresh air.

The cause of the possible carbon monoxide poisoning is under investigation, said Victoria Fire Department Battalion Chief Bubba Bayer.

Canales thinks she knows the culprit and has already replaced a wall-mounted, gas water heater.

She and her children were taken to Citizens Medical Center. A fifth patient taken to the hospital was not identified.

The incident happened about 4 a.m. and the family was released about 9:30 a.m.

"They kept us on oxygen the whole time," Canales said Monday afternoon. "I still have a headache. It feels like a hangover."



What is CO?

Carbon monoxide is produced whenever any fuel such as gas, oil, kerosene, wood or charcoal is burned, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

If appliances that burn fuel are maintained and used properly, the amount of CO produced is usually not hazardous. However, if appliances are not working properly or are used incorrectly, dangerous levels of CO can result.

"Every year, nearly 500 people die in the U.S. from accidental CO poisoning. Change the batteries in your CO detector every six months. If you don't have a battery-powered or battery back-up CO detector, buy one soon," said Jay Dempsey, health communication specialist with the CDC.



Symptoms

At moderate levels, CO exposure can cause severe headaches, dizziness, mental confusion, nausea or fainting. A person can die if these levels persist for a long time, according to the CDC.

Low levels can cause shortness of breath, mild nausea and mild headaches, and may have longer-term effects.

Since many of these symptoms are similar to those of the flu, food poisoning or other illnesses, it is sometimes difficult to determine if CO poisoning is the cause.

Red blood cells pick up CO faster than they pick up oxygen. If there is a lot of CO in the air, the body may replace oxygen in blood with CO. This blocks oxygen from getting into the body, which can damage tissues and result in death.

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