State sees stark uptick in carbon monoxide poisonings after hurricane

The state’s poison control center has seen a major increase in reports of carbon monoxide poisonings in the wake of hurricane Sandy, and a spokeswoman for the center attributes that to the improper use of generators by those who lost power in the storm.

Amy Hanoian-Fontana, communication education specialist for the center, said, as of late morning Wednesday, there had been 27 cases of carbon monoxide poisoning in the state since Tuesday, most of them in Fairfield County. Though that number doesn’t sound like much, she said, the average during this time of year — when there isn’t a power outage — is zero to one case of poisoning.

All of the cases recorded by the center late Wednesday morning were due to improper use of power generators. And Hanoian-Fontana only expected the total to rise as power outages persisted. “If it’s 27 now, by the end of the day it’s going to be a lot worse and over the next few days, it’s going to be even worse,” she said.

The state is collecting data on carbon monoxide cases mainly from area hospitals.

Hanoian-Fontana said those who had been sickened included people who had placed generators in their basement, in the garage with the door closed or other places that allowed those living in the homes to be in contact with fumes from the machinery.

She urged people to be careful when using these units. The center has put out a list of dos and don’ts, asking that home and building owners notuse portable generators or other gasoline-powered equipment (like tools) inside a home, garage, carport, basement or other enclosed space, such as a covered porch. Other tips include using gasoline-powered equipment, like generators, outside only and at least 20 feet from your home. Also, keep your generator away from doors, windows or air intake vents and make sure outside vents are not blocked with snow or leaves.

The symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are like the flu. They include headache, tiredness, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, or loss of consciousness. If not addressing, it can be fatal. Get out of the house and get medical help right away if you or a family member have signs of poisoning. These signs may be your only warning because you cannot see or smell carbon monoxide.

Amanda Cuda