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CO poisoning symptoms mimic those of flu


YOU HAVE A HEADACHE. You feel dizzy, disoriented, and irritable. You're nauseous and unusually sleepy. You think it's the flu coming on, or maybe it's something you ate. But is it? Your symptoms could signal carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning.

Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless, toxic gas produced by combustion of fossil fuels. Blocked venting or a malfunctioning furnace, hot water heater, fireplace, wood stove, or oil-or coal-burning appliance can leak CO fumes into your home and sicken both people and pets.

At high levels, CO can kill an adult or child in minutes. The EPA lists unintentional CO poisoning as the most common cause of poisoning death in the United States. Adults 65 and older, infants, and people with anemia or cardiac or respiratory disease are particularly vulnerable. Exposure even to low levels of CO can cause long-term health problems.

Other symptoms of CO poisoning include:

1 You feel better when you're away from home.

2 Multiple people in the home get sick at the same time.

3 Symptoms worsen after turning on a fuel-burning device.

4 Indoor pets also appear ill, drowsy, and lethargic.

Body aches, low-grade fever, and swollen lymph nodes are typical of a cold or flu, but not CO poisoning.

If you suspect CO in your home, open the doors and windows, turn off all combustion appliances, and get to an ED immediately. Tell the physician that you suspect CO poisoning; you can be diagnosed with a blood test.

Protect your loved ones by installing CO detectors on every level of your home and within hearing range of each sleeping area. For other tips, download the EPA's fact sheet "Preventing Carbon Monoxide Poisoning" at http://www.epa.gov/aging/resources/factsheets/pcmp/.

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