DefinitionCarbon monoxide (CO) is an odorless, colorless, and poisonous gas that can cause sudden illness and death if inhaled.
NumeratorNumber of hospitalizations or emergency department visits for carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning
DenominatorMidyear resident population estimates.
Data Interpretation IssuesHospitalization and emergency department (ED) data may underestimate carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning prevalence because these data may not include those who call poison control centers and are managed at the scene, those who do not seek any medical care, or those who die immediately from CO exposure without medical care.
The toxic effects of CO exposure are nonspecific and easily misdiagnosed when CO exposure is not suspected. Misdiagnosed cases are not counted.
Due to different surveillance practices, data may not be fully comparable between states or jurisdictions.
As of October 1, 2015, the U.S. is currently using the 10th revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10) to code hospitalizations and emergency department visits. Prior to the change, carbon monoxide hospitalizations and emergency department vists were defined as any diganosis code that included 986, E868.0, E868.2, E868.3, E868.8, E868.9, E982.1, excluding E950.0-E979.9 and E990.0-E999 (ICD-9 codes). These are now defined as codes in T58 (ICD-10 codes). Comparison of data prior to the code change may not be appropriate.
Why Is This Important?Hospitalization and emergency department (ED) visits for carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning are almost entirely preventable if proper measures are taken, such as always having a working carbon monoxide detector in your home or work.
CO is found in combustion fumes, such as those produced by cars, trucks, small gasoline engines, stoves, lanterns, burning charcoal and wood, gas ranges, and heating systems. Wherever a flame or combustion occurs, some deadly carbon monoxide gas can be produced. CO from these sources can build up in enclosed or semi-enclosed spaces causing people and animals in these spaces to be poisoned by breathing it.
CO poisoning is especially of concern after emergency situations such as power outages or natural disasters because of emergency equipment used that give off CO. Generators, grills, camp stoves, gasoline equipment, propane, natural gas, or charcoal-burning devices should never be used inside a home, basement, garage, camper, or even outside near an open window.
CO poisoning can also occur outdoors and has been reported while boating. In this case, CO poisoning is attributed mostly to generator exhaust that builds up inside and outside a boat in areas near exhaust vents. Dangerous concentrations of CO can accumulate within seconds; due to the possibility of rapid CO accumulation while boating, it is recommended that all boat owners schedule regular engine and exhaust system maintenance for their boats and install and test daily a battery operated CO detector.
CO poisoning is almost entirely preventable. To protect yourself from CO poisoning, use equipment that emits CO responsibly and install a properly working CO detector in your home. These can be purchased at most grocery and home improvement stores for a relatively low cost. Additionally, it is crucial to check and maintain your CO detector including, but not limited to, changing batteries and checking its power source.
What Is Being Done?Organizations, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), offer free resources that provide information about CO poisoning and prevention. Also, health promotion and community outreach activities are available to educate the public about CO poisoning and prevention. However, it is primarily up to the individual to practice behaviors that prevent CO poisoning such as installing working CO detectors and using equipment that emits CO gas properly.