Carbon monoxide poisoning
Carbon monoxide poisoning results from the way it interacts with proteins that carry oxygen around your body. Normally haemoglobin in your blood binds oxygen as it passes through your lungs and then releases it where it is needed in the various organs of your body. Carbon monoxide also binds to haemoglobin, and it sticks over 200 times stronger than oxygen. This means it blocks the haemoglobin’s ability to bind oxygen and limits the body’s ability to move oxygen around the body.
The early symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include headaches or dizziness, breathlessness, nausea, tiredness, chest and stomach pains and visual problems. These are quite general and are easily confused with viral infections, food poisoning or just being tired. So low level poisoning is often overlooked. Higher doses result in loss of consciousness, long term heart and brain damage and death.
So how can we avoid being poisoned by this gas? Carbon monoxide is produced at high levels when fuels aren’t burnt correctly. This frequently occurs when wood, coal and charcoal fires are left to smoulder, or petrol, gas and kerosene appliances (such as boilers and space heaters) are not maintained properly. This is especially dangerous if generators, charcoal burners or barbecues are used in confined and poorly ventilated spaces such as tents and bars which allow CO to build up in the space with deadly consequences.
Early media reports suggest that carbon monoxide caused the deaths of 21 young people at a tavern (club) in South Africa’s Eastern Cape province in June. However, officials are still investigating and are yet to confirm the cause of these tragic deaths.
Carbon monoxide poisoning is deadly, but it can also be easily avoided.
Maintenance: Make sure your vehicles, boilers, chimneys, generators and space heaters are inspected and maintained by a qualified technician at least once a year. During the rest of the year, check that gas flames are blue and not yellow or orange. And look out for soot around appliances and pilot lights that go out frequently.
Ventilation: Never use camp stoves, barbecues or charcoal heaters indoors or in tents. Only ever use petrol and diesel generators outdoors and well away from open windows and doors. Never use gas space heaters while you are sleeping, and only ever use them in well ventilated spaces. Never leave a vehicle running in a garage.
Monitoring: Buy carbon monoxide monitors and install them near boilers, fireplaces and anywhere where you might use an indoor space heater.
Seek treatment: If you think you or anyone near you is suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning then seek medical treatment.