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For Immediate Release

Pittsburgh Poison Center at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh Warns about Carbon Monoxide Poisoning – the Silent Killer

Cold weather brings an increase of carbon monoxide poisonings

It doesn’t have a smell, a taste and is invisible to the human eye, yet each year carbon monoxide claims more than 5,000 lives across the United States.

When the weather gets colder, the incidence of carbon monoxide poisonings dramatically increases, and the Pittsburgh Poison Center at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh warns families of this invisible deadly killer and offers ways to prevent poisonings from occurring.

In 2002, American poison centers managed nearly 5,000 carbon monoxide exposures in children – nearly 50% of them in children less than 6 years of age. Carbon monoxide can produce devastating effects on everyone, but especially in young children whose nervous systems are not fully developed. It’s often difficult to detect symptoms because they mimic a typical flu-like illness – headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea and vomiting. People with more serious poisoning may experience chest pain, loss of hearing, blurry vision, disorientation, irregular heartbeat, shortness of breath and loss of consciousness and death.

“Carbon monoxide is often called the silent killer because it is tasteless, odorless and colorless, making it impossible to detect without a properly-installed and working carbon monoxide alarm,” said Edward Krenzelok, director of the Pittsburgh Poison Center at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. “The majority of carbon monoxide exposures happen in the winter months. Now is the time for families to be prepared and conduct preventive maintenance in their home.”

The most common source of residential carbon monoxide-related poisoning is unvented or faulty furnaces and heaters. Increased risk occurs anytime these products are operated in enclosed areas with poor ventilation. All fuel-burning appliances, furnaces and fireplaces should be checked annually. Every home should have at least one carbon monoxide detector in an area near bedrooms. Carbon monoxide alarms produce an 85 decibel warning signal and are designed to warn families before the carbon monoxide concentration reaches dangerous levels.

Carbon monoxide is a gas that is produced when from the incomplete burning of fuels that contain carbon, such as wood, gasoline, natural gas and kerosene – anything that burns, produces carbon monoxide. Breathing carbon monoxide fumes decreases the blood’s ability to release oxygen. Low levels of oxygen can lead to cell damage and death, including cells in such vital organs as the brain and heart.

The Pittsburgh Poison Center receives nearly 100,000 calls each year and is available 24-hours a day, seven days a week. The Pittsburgh Poison Center toll-free emergency number is 1-800-222-1222. For more information on carbon monoxide and the poison center, visit Children’s Hospital’s Web site at

Melanie Finnigan, 412-692-5016,
Marc Lukasiak, 412-692-5016,

Last Update
February 19, 2008
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Last Update
February 19, 2008