As We Fight off Getting the Flu, Be Aware of Carbon Monoxide Dangers Too

Fatigued woman

As you may know, Missouri, along with the rest of the country, has been suffering through a severe flu season. Health experts say it’s comparable to the flu season of 2014-15—maybe even worse. As of early February, the Missouri Department of Health & Senior Services had reported nearly 80,000 confirmed cases of influenza in the Show Me State.

Unfortunately, most cases of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning occur during the flu season. Because many CO symptoms mimic the flu—fatigue, dizziness, nausea—many people may not recognize the danger of the situation at first. They may just take to their beds, feeling as if they are “coming down with something.”

That’s why it’s important to have carbon monoxide detectors in your home—especially in your bedrooms. If the detector sounds an alarm, you need to ventilate the home with fresh air right away. If you feel dizzy or drowsy, leave the house immediately. Make sure you check your detectors regularly to make sure they operate properly!

Tracking the cause of carbon monoxide leaks

Finding the source of carbon monoxide can be a complex process sometimes because there are various causes, such as:

  • operating unvented appliances for long periods of time
  • a heating system that’s out of adjustment or damaged (a cracked heat exchanger, for instance)
  • back drafts caused by pressure imbalances near the heating appliance
  • leaving a vehicle idling in an attached garage
  • running a gasoline-powered generator in a basement or attached garage
  • a blocked flue

All of these situations could set off a CO detector, but conditions can change by the time a technician arrives, which can make proper diagnosis difficult. You can help by sharing as much information as possible so the technician can identify the problem.

How does carbon monoxide form?

When combustion is normal, one carbon atom connects with two oxygen atoms to form carbon dioxide (CO2) a harmless gas. When combustion is incomplete due to a lack of oxygen, however, each carbon atom connects with only one oxygen atom. This forms the toxic gas known as carbon monoxide (CO). High CO levels inhibit the ability of the blood to carry oxygen. Another reason CO is so dangerous is that it’s an invisible threat: you can’t see it or smell it. You can only feel that something is wrong.

Read more about carbon monoxide safety.