With NSW residents being told to stay indoors following a four-week lockdown extension, health professionals have identified a new household danger emerging — carbon monoxide poisoning.
The NSW Poisons Information Centre is warning people about the dangers of burning coal indoors after 17 people, including nine children, were hospitalised for CO poisoning in the past week.
'Colourless, odourless, tasteless and toxic'
According to Dr Darren Roberts, Medical Director of the NSW Poisons Information Centre, CO is "extremely toxic" but hard to identify, as it's a "colourless, odourless and tasteless gas."
"People may not know they are inhaling it until it’s too late," Dr Roberts explained, adding that "most" incidents of CO poisoning occur when charcoal is burnt inside at night for heat, often in barbeques.
"It often involves multiple members of a household and can lead to serious health consequences," he continued. "Particularly for children and the elderly."
Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning
Dr Barbara Robertson, Director of Anaesthetics at Albury Wodonga Health, told Yahoo News Australia previously that a huge issue with identifying CO poisoning was that symptoms are similar to those of the flu or gastro.
"The most common symptom is headaches, but victims could experience any number of complaints including dizziness, nausea, vomiting, tiredness, confusion, difficult breathing, muscle cramps and abdominal pains," she explained.
Extended exposure to CO can lead to unconsciousness and in some instances, permanent brain damage or death.
How to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning
A factsheet from the NSW Poisons Information Centre says to ensure outdoor BBQs and heaters are used outside in an open area, and to only use approved indoor heaters inside, as well as having them serviced at least every two years by a registered gas fitter to make sure the emission levels are safe.
“It is vital that people never burn barbeque coals indoors or in enclosed spaces," Dr Roberts said. "Barbeques and outdoor heaters should only be used outside, in a well ventilated area. Otherwise, the results could be tragic."
The NSW Poison Information Centre also suggest leaving coals from BBQs, heaters and bonfires outside as they can produce CO even if there is no smoke. Don't leave a car running in a garage or car park even if the garage door is open, and install an audible carbon monoxide detector alarm for added safety if using indoor gas heaters, generators and on boats.
If you think someone has been exposed to carbon monoxide, contact the NSW Poisons Information Centre immediately on 13 11 26.
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