Recent local case of carbon monoxide poisoning

On Sep 18th, four students were found unconscious in an MPV parked in a petrol station. As many vehicles park in the petrol station, the staff did not notice the MPV was parked for a long time.

Out of the four students, three passed away leaving a sole survivor. The students had gone for an outing to Pulau Jerejak. After a long day, they started their journey home. They decided to take a break and a nap at the petrol station’s car park, and left the car engine running.

The Penang police chief confirmed the cause of the three deaths as carbon monoxide poisoning.

What is carbon monoxide and is it dangerous?

Carbon monoxide, CO, is found in exhaust fumes produced by:

  • car engines
  • car exhaust pipes
  • charcoal grills or stoves
  • fireplaces
  • heaters
  • portable generators

We are all exposed to small amounts of CO on a daily basis. Inhaling too much of CO is hazardous as it can lead to CO poisoning and even death.

CO is both colourless and odourless, which makes it extremely difficult to detect.

In poorly ventilated or enclosed spaces such as a garage or store room, CO can easily build up. When a person inhales the concentrated CO fumes, it will build up in the bloodstream which can lead to severe tissue damage.

CO poisoning is very serious and as can be seen from above, can be fatal if medical treatment is not given promptly.

Common CO symptoms to look out for

Look out for common symptoms such as:

  • confusion
  • difficulty breathing
  • dizziness
  • dull headache
  • nausea and vomiting
  • weakness

When a person inhales a lot of CO, his or her body will start to replace oxygen in the blood with CO. As the amount of oxygen gets depleted, the person will become unconscious. If this goes unnoticed and medical treatment is not given, the person may die.

People at risk from CO poisoning

Actual CO poisoning happens when a person inhales large amounts of CO in a closed or poorly ventilated area.

The risk of inhaling excessive CO grows when a person is near the following places:

  • fireplace
  • furnaces
  • gas stove
  • motor vehicle with engine running and windows shut, especially in an enclosed garage
  • portable generators

The above would be considered safe if they are in well-ventilated areas. However, if they are in poorly ventilated areas, there will be high levels of CO present.

One should never leave the car engine running inside the garage or other enclosed spaces. Place a CO detector as a precautionary measure to raise the alarm when CO levels become dangerously high.

In the case of the three students who died from CO poisoning, the car was sent for inspection. Technicians found leakage in the car’s exhaust pipe. This resulted in the CO emitted by the engine being drawn back into the car while it was stationary, and all the windows were up.

Diagnosis and treatment for CO poisoning

A blood test will determine the CO level in the blood. If CO levels increase to 70 parts per million and above, the listed symptoms will be apparent.

The best treatment is administering pure oxygen to increase blood oxygen. A person may be put on a ventilator if he or she is unable to breathe properly.

Severe cases of CO poisoning may be placed in a pressurized oxygen chamber (hyperbaric oxygen chamber), as it quickly increases oxygen levels in the blood.

Complications from CO poisoning

Depending on the severity of poisoning, complications can include:

  • brain damage
  • heart damage
  • organ damage
  • and even death

Preventive measures for CO poisoning?

Here are some preventive measures we can all take to avoid CO poisoning:

  • Ensure good ventilation while using appliances that burn gas, wood, or other fuel.
  • Use a CO detector.
  • Never sit for a long time in a vehicle with the engine running and windows shut.
  • Get outdoors immediately and seek medical treatment if you suspect you have symptoms of CO poisoning.
  • If another person is suspected of having CO poisoning, get the person outdoors immediately. Do not enter the area again, until emergency service staff give the all clear.

Conclusion

CO poisoning is very serious and can be deadly, as it is extremely difficult to detect. Damage to the body may be irreversible.

Always take preventive measures, some of which are listed above, to prevent CO poisoning.

Note: This article is meant to provide our readers general information on CO poisoning and should not be used as medical advice.

By Aaron
6th October 2020 22:30

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