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For Immediate Release

Pittsburgh Poison Center at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh Warns Families About the Threat of Carbon Monoxide Poisonings

Incidence of carbon monoxide poisonings increases dramatically during winter months

More than 450 people call the Pittsburgh Poison Center of Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh each year with carbon monoxide poisoning emergencies, and the majority of those poisonings occur in the cold fall and winter months in homes because of faulty or unvented heating sources.

This fall, the Pittsburgh Poison Center is recommending families install carbon monoxide alarms in their homes or test alarms that are already installed to prevent accidental and potentially fatal poisonings, said Edward P. Krenzelok, PharmD, director of the poison center. Furnaces and other heating sources should also be inspected and maintained, Dr. Krenzelok said.

Carbon monoxide - known as "the silent killer" because it is a poisonous, colorless, odorless and tasteless gas - kills more than 500 Americans each year through unintentional poisonings.

Unvented or faulty heating sources are the most common cause of the poisonings, which increase dramatically as the weather gets colder, according to Dr. Krenzelok. Unborn babies and children are more susceptible to its effects because their nervous systems are not fully developed. Symptoms can include headache, dizziness, weakness or clumsiness, nausea and vomiting, rapid heart beat, shortness of breath, loss of consciousness and even death.

"The real danger with carbon monoxide is that it is impossible for someone to detect unless you have a properly installed and functioning carbon monoxide alarm. So if you turn your furnace on this month and it isn't working properly, there is the potential for this deadly gas to fill the home without anyone being aware," Dr. Krenzelok said. "But an alarm will alert the whole family and allow them to get out of the house to safety."

Because of this threat, all homes should have at least one carbon monoxide alarm placed near bedrooms. These alarms produce an 85 decibel warning signal and are designed to alert families before the concentration of carbon monoxide reaches a dangerous level. Additionally, all fuel-burning appliances, furnaces and fireplaces should be inspected annually.

Carbon monoxide is produced from the incomplete burning of fuels that contain carbon, such as wood, gasoline, natural gas and kerosene. The gas can build up in enclosed spaces or poorly ventilated areas. Breathing carbon monoxide fumes decreases the body's ability to carry oxygen, which can lead to cell damage and death.

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

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

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