Children admitted to MUHC for carbon monoxide poisoning during snowstorm

WATCH ABOVE: Often referred to as the silent killer, carbon monoxide is an odourless, colourless, tasteless gas that can become deadly within minutes. What are the signs and symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning and how can you avoid it?

Several children were admitted to hospital with carbon monoxide poisoning during the snowstorm that blanketed Quebec this week, leading the Montreal Children’s Hospital trauma centre to remind parents never to leave kids alone in an idling car.

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“Remove the snow from your car prior to starting the engine and ensure that the exhaust pipe is not blocked,” the hospital wrote in a press release.

“After a large snowfall, the exhaust pipe can become blocked by snow and idling can produce carbon monoxide poisoning inside the car, leading to death.”

The hospital advises drivers to never leave their engines running inside a garage, even if the door is open.

“There is an increase in carbon monoxide poisoning in the winter because of car idling,” Sandra Sciangula, a spokesperson for the Montreal Children’s Hospital, told Global News.

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As carbon monoxide is an odourless, colourless and tasteless toxic gas, officials explain the effects of poisoning can occur before someone is aware of its presence.

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It can often be found in vehicles that burn fuel like gas, diesel, wood, propane, natural gas, heating oil, naphtha, kerosene or coal.

When it enters your body, carbon monoxide reduces the amount of oxygen in the bloodstream, inhibiting the blood’s ability to carry oxygen to the body.

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The toxic gas is dangerous, even at a low level of exposure.

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Signs of carbon monoxide poisoning

  • Headaches, dizziness, nausea, vomiting and fatigue can be signs of mild poisoning.
  • More serious exposure can result in fainting, convulsions, coma and death.

Carbon monoxide poisoning occurs faster in

  • pregnant women and their fetuses
  • newborns and children (their breathing is shallower and faster)
  • elderly people (their breathing is shallower and faster)
  • people suffering from pulmonary, respiratory or cardiovascular problems
  • people with anemia
  • smokers
  • people who engage in intense physical activity in carbon monoxide-contaminated and poorly ventilated environments
  • people living at high altitudes

What to do in an emergency

In case of emergency, call 911 or the Quebec Poison Control Centre at 1-800-463-5060.