Travis County family airlifted to San Antonio hospital for carbon monoxide poisoning

A Travis County family was airlifted to a San Antonio hospital Thursday for carbon monoxide poisoning.

University Health says that a generator is blamed for the family, including two children, becoming ill. The hospital adds that it has treated several Texas families for carbon monoxide poisoning at its Level I trauma center this season. 

University Health is one of only two hospitals in the state that provide hyperbaric treatment for emergency care and children. Hyperbaric chambers use high levels of oxygen to treat carbon monoxide poisoning and other conditions, such as burns or wound care.

What is carbon monoxide?

Carbon monoxide (CO) is an odorless, colorless and tasteless gas produced by burning fuel in cars or trucks, small engines, stoves, lanterns, grills, fireplaces, gas ranges, or furnaces. 

CO can build up indoors and poison people and animals who breathe it.

What are the symptoms of CO poisoning?

CO poisoning is a life-threatening emergency that occurs when too much of the gas replaces oxygen in a person’s blood, says University Health.

The CDC says that the most common symptoms of CO poisoning are:

  • headache 
  • dizziness
  • weakness
  • upset stomach
  • vomiting
  • chest pain
  • confusion

CO symptoms are often described as "flu-like." Breathing in a lot of CO can make you pass out or even kill you. People who are sleeping or drunk can even die from CO poisoning before they have symptoms, says the CDC.

Who is at risk from CO poisoning?

Everyone is at risk for CO poisoning, according to the CDC. Infants, the elderly, people with chronic heart disease, anemia, or breathing problems are more likely to get sick from CO. 

Each year, the CDC says more than 400 Americans die from unintentional CO poisoning not linked to fires, more than 100,000 visit the emergency room, and more than 14,000 are hospitalized.

How can I prevent CO poisoning in my home?

The CDC has some tips on how to prevent CO poisoning, including:

  • Install a battery-operated or battery back-up CO detector in your home. Check or replace the detector’s battery when you change the time on your clocks each spring and fall. Place your detector where it will wake you up if it alarms, such as outside your bedroom. Consider buying a detector with a digital readout which can also tell you the highest level of CO concentration in your home. Replace your CO detector every five years
  • Have your heating system, water heater, and any other gas, oil, or coal burning appliances serviced by a qualified technician every year
  • Do not use portable flameless chemical heaters indoors.
  • If you smell an odor from your gas refrigerator have an expert service it. An odor from your gas refrigerator could be leaking CO.
  • When you buy gas equipment, buy only equipment carrying the seal of a national testing agency, such as Underwriters’ Laboratories.
  • Make sure your gas appliances are vented properly. Horizontal vent pipes for appliances, such as a water heater, should go up slightly as they go toward outdoors to prevent CO from leaking if the joints or pipes aren’t fitted tightly.
  • Have your chimney checked or cleaned every year as chimneys can be blocked by debris.
  • Never patch a vent pipe with tape, gum, or something else.
  • Never use a gas range or oven for heating.
  • Never burn charcoal indoors. Burning charcoal – red, gray, black, or white – gives off CO.
  • Never use a portable gas camp stove indoors.
  • Never use a generator inside your home, basement, or garage or less than 20 feet from any window, door, or vent.
  • When using a generator, use a battery-powered or battery backup CO detector in your home.

How can I avoid CO poisoning from my vehicle?

  • Have a mechanic check the exhaust system of your vehicle every year. Even a small leak can lead to a build up of CO inside.
  • Never run your vehicle inside a garage attached to a house even with the garage door open. Always open the door to a detached garage to let in fresh air when you run a car or truck inside.
  • If you drive a vehicle with a tailgate, when you open the tailgate, open the vents or windows to make sure air is moving through. If only the tailgate is open CO from the exhaust will be pulled in.