Beware of the silent killer: how to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning

Every year, hundreds of people are affected by carbon monoxide poisoning, which can be fatal. 
Last winter, 49 people were hospitalized and two people died due to carbon monoxide poisoning following the ice storm in New Brunswick. 
Carbon monoxide poisoning is often called a "silent killer" because this gas is not detectable to any of the body’s senses. It’s odourless, colourless and tasteless. It’s released when fuel such as oil, propane, gasoline or even wood is burned in small engines, lanterns, fireplaces, stoves, grills, gas ranges, furnaces, cars, and trucks. When equipment that burns these fuels is properly ventilated, carbon monoxide poisoning is not a problem. But if the equipment or ventilation system is faulty, or if outdoor equipment is used in an enclosed area, toxic levels of this gas can build up quickly, creating the risk of poisoning. Concentrated carbon monoxide is poisonous and life-threatening to those who inhale it.
Here are some tips for preventing and recognizing carbon monoxide poisoning.

Photo: Santeri Viinamäki (CC BY-SA 4.0)

The following tips help prevent carbon monoxide poisoning:
• Ensure that a battery-operated or battery back-up carbon monoxide detector is installed in the home or workplace where the alarm will be easily heard.
• Check the carbon monoxide detector’s batteries twice a year, ideally once in the fall and once in the spring.
• Have all fuel-based appliances and equipment installed and repaired by a qualified technician.
• Have all fuel-based appliances and equipment serviced annually by a qualified professional.
• Use fuel-based appliances and materials as intended (e.g., do not use generators or portable flameless chemical heaters indoors, do not use a gas stove or oven for heating, do not burn charcoal indoors).
• Ensure that chimneys are inspected and cleaned annually by a professional.
• Never run a car or truck inside an attached garage. For detached garages, always leave the garage door open when running a car or truck inside.
What to look for
The signs and symptoms of acute carbon monoxide poisoning are commonly mistaken for a stomach virus, the flu, or food poisoning. Signs and symptoms include the following:
• Headache
• Dizziness or light-headedness
• Confusion
• Impaired hearing and vision
• Weakness or fatigue
• Muscle cramps
• Nausea and vomiting
• Chest pain
• Altered level of responsiveness

What to do 
If the person is responsive and alert, call the local Poison Control Centre. Call EMS/9-1-1 and get an AED if the person has an altered level of responsiveness or has difficulty breathing.
If the person is not breathing, start CPR. Use a barrier device so that you don’t contaminate yourself with the poison.
Get the person into fresh air but do not enter into a hazardous atmosphere in order to do so.

You can learn more about carbon monoxide poisoning on this Government of Canada page.
And, for handy resources at your fingertips, you can also download our First Aid app.
Make sure you’re prepared for common first aid emergencies; learn more: – and find a class near you!

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