Firefighters Warn Residents Not to Mistake Carbon Monoxide Symptoms for the Flu

Both the flu and carbon monoxide poisoning have very similar symptoms, so make sure you can tell the difference.

The carbon monoxide deaths of two Clairton men last week, blamed on a broken furnace, according to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette , is prompting a new round of warnings from North Hills area firefighters.

McCandless firefighters average about 30 calls a year for suspected carbon monoxide problems. About ten of those calls reveal people with symptoms, or homes with elevated readings, according to Shawn O’Brien, Deputy Fire Chief of the Highland Fire Company Station #186.

With the onset of the flu season, O'Brien worries that some people might confuse CO poisoning for the flu.

"CO symptoms include headache, dizziness, fatigue/drowsiness, nausea, weakness, vomiting, and confusion," said O’Brien. "These are all the same signs of other illnesses—including the flu.  People could confuse CO symptoms with flu symptoms and not realize they are being poisoned by CO."

O'Brien says the only way to know if you have a carbon monoxide problem is install a carbon monoxide detector, which cost about $25 to $30, in your home. Unfortunately, some homeowners don't know the correct place to put them.

"Many residents place them in the basement near the furnace or hot water tank but that creates exposures that they won’t hear it or a residual amount of CO could activate it" O'Brien said. "The best protection is to have it near where you are sleeping so that it will alert you throughout the night."

Below are the most common causes of carbon monoxide in the home.

  • Vehicles left running in a garage.
  • Malfunctioning furnaces.
  • Hot water tanks (there have been incidents where stink bugs have clogged exhaust flues causing CO to be pushed back into the home).
  • Alternative sources of heat that depend on natural gas, propane, or any liquid fuel.

O'Brien says if your CO detector goes off, immediately leave your home and call 9-1-1.


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