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MidAmerican Energy News

Cold Weather Brings Increased Risk of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

DES MOINES, Iowa – (Jan. 26, 2016) – As temperatures fall throughout the Midwest, the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning rises. 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 carbon monoxide poisoning not linked to fires. More than 20,000 people will seek treatment in emergency rooms due to exposure to carbon monoxide, and 4,000 of those will be hospitalized.

MidAmerican Energy Company reminds customers of the warning signs of carbon monoxide poisoning and the steps needed 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 may be confused with those of the flu, which is also more prevalent this time of year: headache, fatigue, shortness of breath, nausea and dizziness. The key difference? The flu is often accompanied by fever, whereas CO poisoning is not.
• As the concentration of CO in the bloodstream increases, the victim may vomit and exhibit drowsiness, mental confusion and loss of muscular coordination.
• Exposure to high levels of CO 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 in the spring and fall when you change your clocks for Daylight Saving Time.

Have your heating system and other fuel-burning appliances checked annually. 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 746,000 customers and natural gas service to 726,000 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.