FAIRBANKS — A Fairbanks family went to sleep as usual on a Sunday night not long before Christmas in 2010. They woke up the next day in the hospital, the victims of carbon monoxide poisoning brought on by a malfunctioning furnace.
In January 2011, a 47-year-old man and 33-year-old woman died of carbon monoxide poisoning as they sat in the man’s vehicle while it was running inside a closed garage. Anchorage police believed the two were running the car to get the heater working and that carbon monoxide from the vehicle’s exhaust built up in the garage, killing them.
The annual cool-down of Alaska’s weather brings with it the risk of sickness and death from carbon monoxide, which can neither be seen nor smelled. Symptoms include headache, nausea, dizziness and confusion.
A report last month from the Section of Epidemiology in the state Division of Public Health warns of the seasonal danger.
“Unintentional CO poisoning hospitalizations occurred mainly in the fall and winter seasons, which are associated with longer stays indoors and more frequent use of CO-generating items such as heaters,” the July notice states.
A state study of hospitalizations in Alaska because of unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning found that 149 people were treated in the period 1993 to 2010. Interior residents accounted for 29 hospitalizations, according to the Section of Epidemiology.
The study found that the rate of hospitalizations was highest among males age 20 to 49 years and in people living in the Southeast and Gulf Coast regions.
“The higher burden of CO poisoning hospitalization among males was driven primarily by more toxic exposures from domestic motor vehicle exhaust and occupational settings,” the July notice stated.
The study said it was “unclear” why the Southeast and Gulf regions had higher rates than elsewhere in the state.
Alaska law requires the installation of a carbon monoxide detector in most living situations. The Office of Fire and Life Safety in the Department of Public Safety explains the requirement on its website:
“If you live or spend time in a single-family house, duplex, apartment, dormitory or group home that has a carbon-based fuel appliance, an attached garage or carport or is adjacent to a parking space, the law requires the installation of a carbon monoxide alarm(s) to warn you and your family if carbon monoxide is present.”
Here are some tips from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (www.cdc.gov) on how to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning:
• Do have your heating system, water heater and any other gas, oil or coal burning appliances serviced by a qualified technician every year.
• Do install a battery-operated CO detector in your home and check or replace the battery when you change the time on your clocks each spring and fall. If the detector sounds, leave your home immediately and call 911.
• Do seek prompt medical attention if you suspect CO poisoning and are feeling dizzy, light-headed or nauseous.
• Don’t use a generator, charcoal grill, camp stove, or other gasoline or charcoal-burning device inside your home, basement, or garage or near a window.
• Don’t run a car or truck inside a garage attached to your house, even if you leave the door open.
• Don’t burn anything in a stove or fireplace that isn’t vented.
• Don’t heat your house with a gas oven.
Contact managing editor Rod Boyce at 459-7585.