Carbon Monoxide the Invisible Killer​

Carbon Monoxide the invisible killer​

July 31, 2013

It is the cold season and our thoughts are on keeping warm. But before you light up that Jiko, or warm yourself before a wood fire, think carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide is a major concern in Kenya because the dangers associated with it are largely unknown to the public. According to Aga Khan University Hospital, patients have been brought in recently suffering from exposure to this dangerous gas.

Many carbon monoxide poisonings occur in the cold months when jikos, furnaces, charcoal fireplaces and portable heaters are being used while windows are closed.

So what is Carbon Monoxide?

Carbon monoxide is a poisonous gas which has no smell, or taste and is initially non-irritating. This means that it is possible to inhale it without realising resulting to sickness, or even death.

Carbon monoxide is released from burning charcoal, wood, stoves, lanterns, gasoline engines, cars and trucks. When fire burns in an enclosed space such as a room and the fuel is unable to burn fully, the oxygen is gradually used up and replaced with carbon dioxide. 

Blocked chimneys and poor ventilation can prevent carbon monoxide from escaping causing the gas to build up to dangerous levels.  Both humans and animals can suffer carbon monoxide poisoning.

When inhaled, carbon monoxide enters the blood stream and replaces the oxygen from hemoglobin.  The heart, brain, and body become starved of oxygen and body cells die.

Carbon monoxide poisoning is difficult to diagnose because the symptoms are almost similar to those of food poisoning, or flu. The most common symptoms are headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain and confusion with no fever associated with it. 

Anyone can suffer from carbon monoxide poisoning but babies, young children, the elderly, smokers, those at high altitudes, people with heart or lung related diseases and asthmatics are most vulnerable.

Steps to take if suspecting Carbon Monoxide poisoning

According to Dr Swati Das Consultant Pulmonologist at Aga Khan University Hospital, Nairobi, once there is suspicion of carbon monoxide poisoning the person should be immediately removed from the place of exposure to fresh air and then rushed to a hospital.

The health care provider will measure and monitor the patient's vital signs, including temperature, pulse, breathing rate, and blood pressure.

The treatment consists of high concentration of oxygen and medication to relieve the symptoms. The time it takes to recover depends on how much carbon monoxide the patient was exposed to and for how long.

If the patient still has impaired mental ability after 2 weeks, the chance of a complete recovery is not very good. Impaired mental ability can reappear within the first 1-2 weeks in those who have been symptom free for a short while. Between ten and 15 per cent of people who have severe carbon monoxide poisoning develop long-term complications such as damage to the brain, or heart.

Prevention is the best policy

-Do not use a Jiko, or burn charcoal inside a closed, or semi closed room.
-Do not allow the Jiko to cool down inside a closed environment.
-Generators should be used outside the house.
-Never run a car, or truck in the garage with the garage door shut.
-Make sure you have heaters and gas-burning appliances regularly inspected to make sure they are safe for use.
-Carbon Monoxide detectors should be fitted to ascertain the level of carbon monoxide in industries


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