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Carbon Monoxide Awareness – important information

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Public Health Wales used National Carbon Monoxide (CO) Awareness Week to encourage the public to be alert to the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning and to take measures to protect themselves against potential carbon monoxide incidents.

Last month’s national awareness week aimed both to highlight the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning and to help people take steps to minimise their risk of being affected.

Public Health Wales’ Head of Substance Misuse, Josie Smith, supported the promotional activity after she faced carbon monoxide poisoning this year.

Josie won a carbon monoxide alarm earlier this year after entering a Public Health Wales staff competition and it has since alerted her to carbon monoxide in her home:

“My partner and I were in bed at 3am on a Sunday morning and the alarm went off.

“After about an hour the gas emergency man arrived. He had alarms all over him, walked in the door and they all went off.

“He checked and said it was the boiler and it needed to be serviced every year.

“I’d been feeling a bit lousy and my partner had been getting headaches, but we just thought we were coming down with something.

“If you do not have a carbon monoxide monitor in your house get one today and make sure everyone you know and you care about also has one.”

Carbon monoxide is a colourless, odourless gas that is extremely poisonous and is produced when we burn fuel such as wood, oil and coal for heating and cooking.

Appliances that are faulty, badly installed or poorly maintained can produce carbon monoxide and people can be at risk of being poisoned.

The symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning can include headaches, dizziness, nausea, breathlessness, collapse and loss of consciousness.

People who are suddenly exposed to a large amount of carbon monoxide may be overcome and fall unconscious.

When people are exposed to low doses of carbon monoxide over a long period of time, symptoms may be more difficult to spot but can still cause serious long-term health problems and even death.

Public Health Wales marked the week by reminding Welsh communities that monoxide poisoning can be prevented by taking three simple steps:

1. Signs – remember the six main symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are; headaches, dizziness, nausea, breathlessness, collapse and loss of consciousness.

2. Servicing – make sure all fuel-burning appliances are serviced annually by an engineer who is qualified and registered with the appropriate organisation.

3. Sound – fit an audible alarm – carbon monoxide alarms sound a warning if dangerous levels of carbon monoxide are present in a home or workplace. This could save your life.

Heather Lewis, Consultant in Health Protection for Public Health Wales, said: “Carbon monoxide is often known as the ‘silent killer’.

“You can’t see or smell it, but at high levels of exposure it can kill in as little as 3 minutes and at lower levels it causes illness.

“There are around 200 hospital admissions and around 30 deaths related to carbon monoxide in England and Wales each year.

“These incidents are entirely preventable, so Public Health Wales is working with others to tackle this important public health problem.”

Public Health Wales has committed to promote the dangers of carbon monoxide as part of Carbon Monoxide Awareness Week.

This forms part of the work of the Carbon Monoxide in Wales Working Group, which aims to coordinate carbon monoxide related action and advice in Wales and prevent carbon monoxide exposures.

Along with Public Health Wales, the group comprises representative from the gas industry, the emergency services, local health boards and local authorities, the Health and Safety Executive, Welsh Government and RoSPA.

More information on carbon monoxide is available on the Public Health Wales website.

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