Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Recently, a man died from carbon monoxide poisoning in Medicine Hat. The Medicine Hat News has publicized this tragedy with a fair amount of educational material. How many of us have taken the trouble of securing our homes to prevent such a tragedy?

Do you know how and why so many people get killed by this deadly gas?

Do you know why the Manitoba taxpayers lost $70million between 1989 and 1998?

Find out more about these issues from the medical journals summarized in the following paragraphs.

Carbon Monoxide poisoning:

Approximately 600 accidental deaths due to carbon monoxide poisoning are reported annually in the United States. Intentional carbon monoxide-related deaths is 5 to 10 times higher, says a Review Article on this subject in the New England Journal of Medicine.

A severe winter is associated with increased number of carbon monoxide injuries. This is due to the poorly ventilated gasoline-powered generators used in winter months. The intentional deaths occur through out the year.

What is the level of normal carbon monoxide in the atmosphere? Less than 0.001 percent. We all have low levels of carbon monoxide in our blood. Levels amongst non-smokers are 1 to 3 percent. Compare this to a smoker – the level could be 10 to more than 15 percent higher.

What are the other sources of carbon monoxide besides smoke? Motor vehicle exhaust fumes, poorly functioning heating systems, propane operated forklifts, cleaner fuels like propane and methane.

According to the authors of this paper, the majority of the deaths in US were from motor vehicle exhaust fumes – 57 percent. Of these, 43 percent were due to faulty exhaust systems, 39 percent to operation in an improperly ventilated structure, and 18 percent to the use of a fuel-burning heating device in the passenger compartment.

Why is the gas so deadly? It is a colorless, odorless gas that is easily absorbed through the lungs. It has 200 to 250 times greater affinity to hemoglobin than oxygen. Thus depriving our body of oxygen. Resulting in destruction of vital organs and tissues.

In a confined space like a garage, the blood level can rise to dangerous levels within 10 minutes. Clinical features are vague and often mimic a non-specific viral illness. Hence delay in diagnosis.

Treatment consists of removing the person from the site, administrating 100 percent oxygen and transporting to the nearest hospital for further management by the experts.

Tragedies from carbon monoxide poisoning can be reduced or eliminated by preventive measures. Fuel-burning heating systems require regular professional maintainance, say the authors. Motor vehicles with engine running should not be in a confined space. Outdoor gas grills should not be operated indoors. Carbon monoxide detectors should be installed but they are not a substitute for proper maintainance of appliances, say the authors.

Why Manitoba taxpayers are losing millions of dollars?

Manitoba doctors earn 15 percent less than doctors in Ontario, Saskatchewan and Alberta, reports The Medical Post (Nov 24/98).

Between 1989 and 1998 about 400 medical graduates left the province at a cost of $150,000 per family physician and $200,000 per specialist. That is a loss to the taxpayers of $70 million. That does not include the cost of replacing 1800 practicing physicians who left Manitoba for greener pastures.

What is the solution? The executive director of the Manitoba Medical Association says,”The main problem in Manitoba is compensation. If you fix that problem, you stop losing doctors to other areas of Canada and U.S.”

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