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Charity urges people to become aware of the silent killer in their homes

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Charity urges people to become aware of the silent killer in their homes


Published by Max Salsbury for in Health and also in Communities, Housing

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Image: Fire place via Shutterstock

How many families that fall asleep by the fireside this Christmas will not be the worse for drink and food - but will actually be suffering the effects of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning?

That's the question being posed by Lynn Griffiths of the charity Carbon Monoxide Awareness. Lynn's own family suffered from CO poisoning in their home for more than a decade - without even knowing it was the deadly gas that was causing the problem.

“The charity has noticed a sharp increase in the amount of carbon monoxide incidents it's seeing this year," said Lynn. "I want everyone to think about the health and safety of their loved ones family, friends and the old person who lives next door or down the street, as we approach the season of good will this year.”

Victims of just low levels of CO can go on to develop long-term chronic health problems. Exposure is associated with neurological effects, such as having difficulties in concentrating and changes in behaviour or personality.

“As I know only too well from the experience of my own family, people can have their health devastated by low levels of carbon monoxide without knowing what's causing their debilitating illness for many years,” Lynn said.

CO is believed to cause around 50 deaths a year. However, as it isn't routinely tested for at post mortem the charity believes the figure could be much higher.

At low levels, CO causes symptoms that are similar to flu, food poisoning or a virus, including headaches, difficulty in thinking, tiredness and nausea. The charity says that CO symptoms are clearly being over looked without anyone even thinking or questioning CO as a possibility for a loved one's or friend's illness or constant visits to the doctor's surgery or hospital.

Faulty appliances or partially blocked flues can quickly lead to CO building up in confined spaces to levels that can kill in just three minutes.

CO is difficult to detect because it is colourless and has no taste or smell. It is produced by faulty or poorly maintained or ventilated hydrocarbon fuel such as coal, charcoal, wood, oil, petrol, diesel, natural gas and liquid petroleum gas burning appliances and by blocked or partially blocked flues.

The gas is the biggest cause of accidental death by poisoning in the UK.  

The charity is advising people to protect themselves by making sure they and their families have all their fuel burning appliances serviced once a year, their chimney gets swept once or twice a year. It also advises installing a CO alarm in the correct place in their home, caravan or boat.

Lynn says people should consider buying CO alarms as Christmas presents. "It could end up being the best present you have ever given to a family member or friend because it may just save their life over Christmas or New Year," said Lynn.

It is estimated that around 4,000 people attend accident and emergency departments each year because of CO poisoning. The gas reduces the oxygen-carrying capacity of blood and so starves vital organs of oxygen.

Carbon Monoxide Awareness is an independent registered charity run entirely by volunteers and has no paid staff.

It is currently in desperate need of donations to launch a national press campaign to try and save lives and prevent injuries this Christmas and New Year.


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