Monday's carbon monoxide poisoning involving a family of six in Salt Lake City is a stark reminder that residents need to be aware of the importance of having a working carbon monoxide alarm in their home.
The family, which included three adults and three children ages 19 months, 8 years and 9 years, began complaining of flu-like symptoms a couple of days ago, said Jasen Asay, spokesman for the Salt Lake City Fire Department. When their symptoms worsened, they called for help.
It was determined the family had been exposed to extremely high levels of carbon monoxide from a malfunctioning water heater. Asay said if the family had waited any longer to call for help, there could have been fatalities.
"I checked on them (Monday afternoon) and they are all expected to recover," Asay said. "They are being treated in hyperbaric chambers, which deliver 100 percent pure oxygen."
Asay said the family didn't have carbon monoxide detectors in the home.
"Most people have smoke detectors in their home, but not everyone has a carbon monoxide detector," he said. "Carbon monoxide is very scary and very dangerous. It's odorless and tasteless, and you don't realize it's around until you get sick."
Dustin Waters, a clinical pharmacist at McKay-Dee Hospital in Ogden said symptoms of carbon monoxide include headache, dizziness, fatigue, weakness, nausea and vomiting. More serious symptoms include difficulty breathing, chest pain and confusion.
"The symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are very nonspecific and may be confused with flu-like symptoms," Waters said. "However, with influenza or a gastrointestinal illness, a fever is common, whereas with carbon monoxide poisoning, fever would be very uncommon."
Waters said the hospital on average sees fewer than 20 patients a year with carbon monoxide poisoning.
"In one estimate from the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission, the majority of unintentional deaths from carbon monoxide poisoning come from heating systems or smoke inhalation," he said.
In addition, the safety commission reports that each year in America, more than 400 people die from accidental, nonfire-related carbon monoxide poisoning due to faulty, improperly used or incorrectly vented fuel-burning appliances, such as water heaters, stoves, furnaces and fireplaces. More than 20,000 people are seen in the emergency room and more than 4,000 people are hospitalized.
Carbon monoxide is often called the "silent killer," because it can't be seen, tasted or smelled.
Asay said getting a carbon monoxide detector is one of the best ways to prevent poisoning.
"There should be one on every level of your home, and we suggest putting them close to where you sleep so they will wake you up if they go off, and regularly check the batteries," he said. "Have your fireplace, furnace and water heater inspected as well."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also warn against the use of a generator inside the home, basement, garage or near a window or vent. Never use a portable gas camp stove indoors, never use a charcoal grill or barbecue grill indoors and never use a gas range or oven for heating, and never warm up your car with the garage door shut.
"If you suspect you have carbon monoxide poisoning, get out of your house immediately and call 911," Asay said. "It's important to get fresh air as soon as possible."