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MidAmerican Energy News

Winter poses increased risk of CO poisoning

DES MOINES, Iowa – (Dec. 30, 2014) – Carbon monoxide – known by the chemical abbreviation CO – is a colorless, odorless, toxic gas created any time carbon-based fuels are burned. Because you can’t see it, smell it or taste it, you may be overcome by carbon monoxide before you even realize you’ve been exposed to it.

Winter is the peak season for carbon monoxide poisoning, since people spend more of their time indoors in buildings heated by natural gas, propane, wood stoves or fireplaces. According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 400 Americans die each year from unintentional CO poisoning, and more than 20,000 end up in the emergency room due to exposure to carbon monoxide.

MidAmerican Energy Company wants customers to learn to recognize the warning signs of carbon monoxide poisoning and take steps to protect themselves and their families from this silent killer. Here are some tips for reducing your risk of carbon monoxide poisoning this heating season:

Be alert to signs of CO exposure. The initial symptoms of low to moderate CO poisoning are similar to those of the flu: headache, fatigue, shortness of breath, nausea and dizziness. As the concentration of carbon monoxide in the bloodstream increases, the victim may vomit and exhibit drowsiness, mental confusion and loss of muscular coordination. Exposure to high levels of carbon monoxide may lead to loss of consciousness, convulsions, cardiac or respiratory failure and, ultimately, death. If you suspect CO poisoning, get outside into fresh air immediately and then call 911.

Install CO detectors in your home. Have at least one detector certified by Underwriters Laboratories installed on each level of your home. These devices sound an alarm before a dangerous level of carbon monoxide is reached. If you have a plug-in model, be sure it has a battery backup so that it keeps working in the event of a power outage. Change the batteries once a year.

Have your heating system and other fuel-burning appliances checked annually. Never operate portable generators inside homes or garages.Properly installed and maintained equipment decreases your chance of being exposed to carbon monoxide. A qualified professional will run through a checklist to make sure your furnace and appliances are operating safely and efficiently. Periodically check vents, flues and chimneys to make sure they aren’t blocked, which can cause exhaust gases to back up into the house.

Never operate portable generators inside homes or garages. Generators give off carbon monoxide that can quickly reach toxic levels, even if doors and windows are left open. If you must use a portable generator as a power source, locate it far away from the house.

Beware of home heating shortcuts. If the power goes out, or your furnace malfunctions, don’t bring outdoor equipment like charcoal grills or camp stoves indoors, and don’t use your gas range or oven as a space heater. Before lighting a fire in your wood-burning fireplace, open the damper and keep it open until the ashes are cool.

Never leave your car running inside an attached garage, even if the overhead door is open. Fumes can still build up inside the garage and seep into the house.

For more home safety tips, visit MidAmerican Energy’s website:

MidAmerican Energy Company provides electric service to 739,000 customers and natural gas service to 719,000 customers in Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska and South Dakota. It is headquartered in Des Moines, Iowa. Information about MidAmerican Energy is available on the company’s website, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube pages, which can be accessed via MidAmerican Energy Company's website.