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Deaths From Carbon Monoxide Rise Amid Winter Storms

photo of carbon monoxide alarm

Feb. 18, 2021 -- Poison control centers in Texas are receiving hundreds of calls for potential carbon monoxide poisoning as residents try to stay warm during power outages. Several deaths have been reported, according to NBC News.

In Houston, two adults and two children used their car to create heat and got carbon monoxide poisoning. A woman and an 8-year-old girl died, and a man and a 7-year-old boy were rushed to a hospital for treatment. Their names have not been released, the news outlet reported.

“Initial indications are that the car was running in the attached garage to create heat as the power is out,” the Houston Police Department told the news outlet.

“Cars, grills, and generators should not be used in or near a building,” the department said.

Millions of residents went without power across Texas this week as record-low temperatures overwhelmed the state’s electrical grid. The hardest-hit areas have included Houston and Galveston, NBC News reported. Nearly 500,000 Texas residents were still without power as of Thursday morning, according to PowerOutage.US.

The CDC issued an advisory on Wednesday to alert health care providers that carbon monoxide poisoning cases may increase in areas that have been affected by winter storms. Four people died from carbon monoxide poisoning in Portland, OR, according to The Associated Press.

In Harris County, which includes Houston, more than 300 carbon monoxide poisoning cases have been reported, according to the Houston Chronicle. The Houston Fire Department has received 90 calls, and Memorial Hermann Health System has treated more than 100 cases in emergency rooms. Ben Taub Hospital, Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital, and Baylor-St. Luke’s Medical Center have also treated several cases of carbon monoxide poisoning.

“With that number of patients going in, it’s turning into a mini mass casualty event,” Samuel Prater, MD, an emergency room doctor who works with Memorial Hermann, told the newspaper.

More than half of the patients being treated are children, the newspaper reported. In Sugar Land, three children and a grandmother died after using the fireplace to heat their home.

Many of the cases are related to indoor use of grills and generators to stay warm. The Harris County Fire Marshal’s Office has broadcast advice on staying warm, preventing hypothermia, and avoiding carbon monoxide poisoning, but people may not be able to receive the news without power and internet services.

The Fire Marshal’s Office expects to see more cases this week as low temperatures continue. In many instances, people are recognizing the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning -- such as headache, nausea, dizziness, and confusion -- and driving themselves to the hospital for treatment.

“They’ve been without heat for over 30 hours now and trying to protect their families by doing the best way they know how,” Rachel Neutzler, a spokesperson for the office, told the newspaper. “Unfortunately, all these carbon monoxide poisonings are preventable.”

WebMD Health News Brief

Sources

NBC News: “Two dead from carbon monoxide poisoning after using car for heat in Texas storm.”

PowerOutage.US: “Texas power outages.”

CDC: “2021 Winter Storms -- Clinical Guidance for Carbon Monoxide (CO) Poisoning.”

The Associated Press: “4 die from carbon monoxide poisoning during winter storm.”

Houston Chronicle: “Harris County is slammed with 300+ carbon monoxide cases -- and many are kids.”

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