Local News

Carbon Monoxide: The Silent Killer

Posted October 21, 1998

— A Carrboro family is recovering from the effects of carbon monoxide poisoning. The Kesslers were poisoned by the invisible, odorless gas overnight. Fire investigators are still trying to sort out the details.

Carrboro Fire Chief Rodney Murray believes the poisoning is related to the family's natural gas heating system, but authorities have not yet pinpointed the leak.

Murray says John Kessler turned his heat on, then went to bed around 1 a.m. Thursday. Kessler's son woke up around 7:30 a.m., became sick, and woke up everyone else in the home.

The family escaped the carbon monoxide by crawling to the front porch. "They were in a semi-conscious state," Murray says. "The owner explained to me that he had turned his furnace on this morning and he had suspected that it was possible carbon monoxide poisoning from the furnace."

Carbon monoxide poisoning is one of the leading causes of poisoness death in America. The symptoms can easily be mistaken for other common illnesses, which contributes to the number of serious illnesses and deaths.

1. COHb- Carboxyhemoglobin, when carbon monoxide combines with the hemoglobin in your blood instead of oxygen.2. Dyspnea- difficult or labored respiration.3. Angina- brief attacks of chest pain.

Normally, oxygen inhaled into your lungs combines with the hemoglobin in your blood to form oxyhemoglobin. The oxygen is transported by the hemoglobin to the body's cells.

However, when Carbon Monoxide is inhaled, the CO combines with the hemoglobin in your blood (called carboxyhemoglobin or COHb) instead of oxygen, thus depriving your body of the oxygen it needs to survive.

Symptoms can vary per individual. COHb levels can vary according to patient's age, medical history and time of exposure.

Murray agrees the Kesslers' heating system is the likely culprit.

"You could have a combustion chamber that was cracked. You could have a vent system that was stopped up. In this particular case at this time, we don't know what the cause of this was. It's still under investigation," Murray says.

Many people are using their heating systems for the first time this year, so this type of accident is more likely to occur right now. In fact, the Carrboro Fire Department had another call Thursday related to a furnace problem in an apartment complex.

Experts say home owners and renters should install carbon monoxide detectors. The detectors go off if the deadly gas is present.

Experts also recommend having gas appliances, such as a heater or stove, inspected every year.

Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include: headaches, dizziness, nausea, fatigue, a flushed face, and hallucinations. Some cases come on suddenly, and some occur over the course of a few days.

Statistics fromWayne State Universitysay 1,500 people die every year from carbon monoxide poisoning. Accidental exposure causes 10,000 people to seek medical attention.

The Kessler family was treated at UNC Thursday, and was expected to be released the same day.


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