Often referred to as the silent killer, carbon monoxide is an odourless, colourless, tasteless gas that can become deadly within minutes.
On Sunday evening, a man in his mid-30s was found dead in a home north of downtown, where emergency crews said they found elevated levels of the deadly gas. While an autopsy has not yet been completed, police said it does appear to be carbon monoxide poisoning.
A pet was also found dead. Four other people were taken to hospital as a precautionary measure, police said.
ATCO said it responds to about 3,000 CO calls in Alberta every year. On average, Edmonton Fire Rescue Services responds to approximately 338 CO poisoning-related calls a year.
What is carbon monoxide poisoning?
Carbon monoxide is a gas produced by burning any fuel-gas, oil, kerosene, wood or charcoal. When you breathe it in, carbon monoxide replaces the oxygen in your blood which causes your cells to die and your organs to stop working.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can happen suddenly or over a long period of time. According to Alberta Health Services, breathing in low levels of carbon monoxide over a long period of time can cause severe heart problems and brain damage.
What causes carbon monoxide poisoning?
Common sources of carbon monoxide are vehicles, fireplaces, wood stoves and gas appliances such as ovens, dryers and water heaters. While they don’t usually cause problems, according to AHS, vehicles left running in enclosed spaces like garages cause carbon monoxide to build up and leak back into a home. AHS says even sitting in an idling vehicle in an open garage can be dangerous.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include headache, dizziness and nausea. While these symptoms are similar to the flu, one thing to look out for with carbon monoxide poisoning is if you start to feel better once you leave home.
As carbon monoxide builds up in your blood, symptoms get worse and can include confusion, drowsiness, chest pain, fast breathing, vision problems and seizures.
If you have symptoms that you think could be caused by carbon monoxide poisoning, leave the area right away and call 911 or go to the emergency room.
How is it treated?
Oxygen therapy is the best treatment for carbon monoxide poisoning. Breathing in pure oxygen can bring the oxygen level in your blood back to normal. There are two types of oxygen therapy; one includes breathing in oxygen through a mask, the other option is hyperbaric oxygen therapy, which involves lying inside a chamber that delivers oxygen under high pressure.
With quick treatment, most people recover from carbon monoxide poisoning within a few days.
How can you prevent carbon monoxide poisoning?
AHS recommends putting carbon monoxide detectors in your home; in the hallway near every separate sleeping area and on each level of the home.
It’s important to choose a detector endorsed by the Standards Council of Canada, such as the Underwriters Laboratories of Canada (ULC) or the Canadian Standards Association (CSA), AHS added.
If you install a detector, follow the directions and know what to do if the alarm sounds. It’s important to have detectors inspected every six months.
Watch below: What you need to know about carbon monoxide poisoning
Sunday was the second case of carbon monoxide poisoning in Edmonton over the last month. In October, a family of six was taken to hospital after excess levels of carbon monoxide were found inside their south Edmonton townhouse.
Three weeks later, Hugitu Turi lost her baby, 15 days before her due date. Doctors have not confirmed carbon monoxide caused the stillbirth, but the Turi family is convinced the gas was to blame.
“We are thinking 100 per cent for that only,” Hussein Turi, Hugitu’s husband, told Global News last week.
For more information on carbon monoxide poisoning, visit Alberta Health Service’s website.
Editor’s note: This story was originally published on Dec. 14, 2015. It was updated on Nov. 21, 2016 to include information on the latest CO-related incident in Edmonton.