About Englewood Hospital and Medical Center
2010 Press Releases
For immediate release
March 1, 2010
Contact: Kathleen Mathieu
Carbon Monoxide Poisoning: An Invisible Killer
When tennis star Vitas Gerulaitis died of carbon monoxide poisoning in 1994, the world gasped. The healthy, vibrant, sophisticated individual was entering a new phase of his life as a tennis commentator when his life was tragically cut short at the age of 40. He was staying at a friend’s guesthouse in Long Island, having just lent his name to a charity tennis clinic, when, due to a faulty heating and air conditioning system, he was found dead, the victim of carbon monoxide poisoning.
More than 15 years later, awareness is still a moving target. Although the risk of fire is on everyone’s radar, carbon monoxide poisoning remains low priority, despite the fact that it is one of the leading causes of poison deaths in the United States. Respiratory Therapist Kenneth Capek, MPA, RRT, Director of the Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Center at Englewood Hospital and Medical Center, provides some basic guidelines for dealing with this invisible killer.
Everyone talks about lead, asbestos, even toxic mold -- but carbon monoxide poisoning is rarely discussed. Why should we care?
Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless toxic gas produced by incomplete combustion of fuel. It is easy to overlook the symptoms of CO poisoning, and prolonged exposure can be fatal. Unintentional CO exposure accounts for an estimated 15,000 emergency department visits and 500 unintentional deaths in the United States each year.
What are the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning?
At low levels, the symptoms are very deceptive, because they can resemble the flu, food poisoning, or other illnesses. Even healthcare professionals might not immediately suspect CO poisoning! Low to moderate levels of exposure can trigger headaches, fatigue, shortness of breath, nausea, and dizziness. Victims can become mentally confused or even faint. If these symptoms persist and exposure continues, CO poisoning can be fatal.
What are the causes?
CO is produced whenever any fuel is burned, and these small amounts are not dangerous. However, high levels produced from malfunctioning or improperly vented or
used fuel-burning appliances such as cars, furnaces, water heaters, generators, wood stoves, and even fireplaces can cause illness and death.
What should you do if you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning?
Get fresh air immediately. Open doors and windows.
Call your gas company if you smell gas or suspect a CO leak.
Go to an ER and say that you suspect CO poisoning.
How do you prevent CO poisoning?
Prevention is the key!
Know the symptoms of CO poisoning and never ignore them, especially if others
are experiencing them too. You could die if you don’t act.
Have your fuel-burning appliances (including oil and gas furnaces, gas water heaters,
gas ranges and ovens, gas dryers, gas or kerosene space heaters, fireplaces, and
wood stoves) inspected yearly. Make sure they are properly vented.
Never idle the car in a garage, even if the garage door to the outside is open!
Fumes can accumulate quickly.
Never use a gas oven to heat your home, even for a short time, or sleep in a room with
an un-vented gas or kerosene space heater.
Never use a charcoal grill or a gas-powered engine (such as chainsaws) in an enclosed
Contact the Consumer Product Safety Commission at 800-638-2772 or cpsc.gov for
more information on how to reduce your risks from CO and other dangerous gases and
Awareness and prevention are the best ways to avoid CO poisoning, but a CO detector
in your house can be a low-cost lifesaver. Always use a CO detector in your house to
protect you and your family.
What kind of CO detector should I buy?
When shopping for a CO detector, research features and quality, and be sure to follow all manufacturer instructions for installation and upkeep. And remember, CO detectors only last about 5 years.
What happens if I come to Englewood Hospital and Medical Center with suspected CO poisoning?
You will be given a physical examination and then checked for carbon monoxide levels with a non-invasive CO monitor that clips to your finger, or possibly a blood test. If CO poisoning is found, you will be given 100% oxygen, which usually reverses the amount of CO in your system. Since CO replaces the oxygen in your bloodstream, if levels are dangerously high, you might be put inside a hyperbaric chamber in order to flush the CO from your system more rapidly. Unborn children, the elderly, and those with anemia or a history of heart or respiratory disease are particularly at risk.
Englewood Hospital is the only hospital in Bergen County with hyperbaric chambers. In addition, the two chambers are the only ones in northern New Jersey available for emergencies around-the-clock, seven days a week.
About Englewood Hospital and Medical Center
Englewood Hospital and Medical Center provides patients with the highest level of compassionate care through a broad range of state-of-the-art clinical programs and the most advanced treatments and diagnostic services. It is renowned for its bloodless medicine and surgery program, cardiac and vascular programs and its leadership in breast care, oncology and joint replacement services. Through its affiliation with the Mount Sinai School of Medicine and the Mount Sinai Consortium for Graduate Medical Education, this thriving, acute-care and community teaching hospital trains medical residents in a variety of disciplines, including surgery, pediatrics, podiatry, pathology and critical care medicine. Englewood Hospital is home to a Vascular Fellowship Program that has trained a generation of world-class vascular surgeons. Additionally, many members of the medical staff at Englewood Hospital serve as faculty members at Mount Sinai. Englewood Hospital has earned numerous accreditations from the Joint Commission and other organizations and is among the four percent of hospitals nationwide honored with the prestigious Magnet nursing award, a distinction that has been earned twice by its nursing staff.