MURRAY — Seventy-one patients have visited Intermountain Healthcare facilities for carbon monoxide-related reasons since November — a 25 percent jump in the number treated during the same time last year.
"Any is too many," Dr. Lindell Weaver, medical director of the Hyperbaric Medicine Center at Intermountain Medical Center and LDS Hospital, said Thursday at a press conference.
"We can't see it, we can't smell it, that's why it's called the silent killer," he said. "And indeed it does kill people, unfortunately."
Symptoms of poisoning are flu-like but usually aren't accompanied by a fever. Weaver said if large groups of people are experiencing these symptoms, they should keep CO exposure in mind as a potential culprit.
Practicing simple prevention methods, like purchasing CO detectors for homes, is crucial to stopping the silent killer, Weaver emphasized.
"That would drop the poisoning rate right down," he said. Not running any motorized machines in enclosed spaces is another key prevention method.
Unified Fire Authority responded to 69 carbon monoxide-related calls last year and around 20 already this month, said Ryan Love, public information officer for the organization. He echoed the importance of detectors.
"It is a small price to pay to protect your loved ones in your home from a possible carbon monoxide exposure," he said.
Warming up cars
While it may be tempting to warm up cars in winter, Love stressed the importance of doing so safely.
"With new technology we have keyless operating cars and we have remote started cars and unfortunately that makes it more accessible when you're inside during the winter months," he said. "Make sure you move the car outside so that way it's properly ventilated and that way you don't get that exposure creeping into the house."
But the threat doesn't only apply to cars.
"Any gas-powered furnace is going to have issues at some point," Love said. He suggested people have a technician annually check their furnace to make sure there's no leakage.
Not a short-term problem
It's a common misconception that CO poisoning is a short-term problem, Weaver said.
"Often people believe that carbon monoxide you get poisoned, you get treated and it's gone out of your system, you're going to be fine. Unfortunately that is not the case," he said. "The moment a person is poisoned, they have risk for long-term problems."
Those long-term problems can include permanent brain and heart damage from inflammation caused by the poison. Elderly people, pregnant women and infants are more at risk for these long-term issues.
In order to rid the body of CO and increase oxygen levels, patients sit in a hyperbaric chamber. It's also possible to relapse after the initial treatment.
Weaver stressed that it's not just cars people need to think about — CO poisoning can be a risk anywhere.
"It could be at work, it could be at school, it could be at home," he said. "We've seen poisoned people from all of those situations. It doesn't necessarily have to be at home."