Carbon monoxide kills 3 at resort: How to prevent this 'serious' health hazard

Person holding a light up carbon monoxide detector.
Every year in Canada, more than 300 people die from carbon monoxide, the odourless, colourless and tasteless gas. (Photo via Getty)

This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Contact a qualified medical professional before engaging in any physical activity, or making any changes to your diet, medication or lifestyle.

Experts are urging people to make themselves familiar with the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning following a tragic accident at the Sandals Resort in the Bahamas.

In early May, three Americans were found dead at the resort after being poisoned by the deadly gas.

Tennessee couple Michael Phillips, 68, and his wife, Robbie Phillips, 65, as well as Florida resident Vincent Paul Chiarella, 64, died "as a result of asphyxiation due to carbon monoxide poisoning," the Royal Bahamas Police Force said in a news release obtained by People.

The department also said that the incident remains "under investigation" at this time.

According to a report by the University of Fraser Valley, approximately 300 people die of carbon monoxide poisoning each year in Canada, most of which are accidental while Canadians are asleep. In the United States, more than 400 people die each year from the odourless, colourless and tasteless gas.

Understanding the signs, symptoms and how to prevent potential poisoning can help keep you and your family safe.

Carbon Monoxide alarm mounted to interior wall
A battery-operated carbon monoxide detector can help keep you and your family safe. (Image via Getty Images)

What is carbon monoxide poisoning?

When there’s too much carbon monoxide in the air, your body replaces the oxygen in your red blood cells with the gas. Carbon monoxide is produced when you burn gasoline, wood, propane, charcoal or other fuel.

If appliances and engines like furnaces, fireplaces and stoves are poorly ventilated, carbon monoxide can quickly build-up to a toxic level.

What are the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning?

Although carbon monoxide is odourless and colourless, there are physical symptoms that indicate whether a person has been exposed to high carbon monoxide levels.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the most common symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include nausea, dizziness, vomiting, tiredness, chest pain and headaches.

Someone with severe carbon monoxide poisoning may experience irritability, an altered mental state, loss of consciousness, coma and death. It’s especially dangerous for children and people with preexisting conditions, which can lead to heart attacks and strokes.

What are the long-term impacts of carbon monoxide poisoning?

While most carbon monoxide poisoning symptoms occur immediately, in some cases the effects don’t arise until weeks later.

When you’re exposed to the gas, the amount of time you have before experiencing certain symptoms like loss of consciousness depends on various factors, including how large the space is and whether it has proper ventilation.

Elderly man sitting on the couch with his hand touching his face.
Memory loss can be a long-term impact of carbon monoxide poisoning. (Image via Getty Images)

According to Dr. Ken LeDez, an anesthesiologist and specialist in hyperbaric medicine in Newfoundland, opening a door or window may not be enough to prevent damage.

LeDez says carbon monoxide poisoning can cause "severe neurologic damage," including things like depression, severe memory loss and "Parkinson's disease type symptoms."

In an interview with Yahoo Canada, LeDez says it’s important to manage any prolonged symptoms like dizziness or impaired cognitions with treatment as soon as possible.

"I’ve seen many, many patients who have not sought treatment, who have had long-term consequences and are basically unable to work ever again," he explains.

As an expert in carbon monoxide poisoning, LeDez recommends treating the more serious cases with hyperbaric oxygen to prevent delayed onset effects and to treat the immediate symptoms.

Patients who undergo hyperbaric oxygen therapy sit in a special chamber and breathe in pure oxygen with air pressure levels up to three times higher than average, allowing the body to heal.

What do you do if you suspect someone has carbon monoxide poisoning?

If you believe someone has been affected by carbon monoxide poisoning, make sure to open windows and doors quickly, or evacuate the home and call 911. Firefighters have the necessary equipment to measure the levels of carbon monoxide in the home.

Make sure you also protect yourself by going outside and getting fresh air after being in the affected space.

Young person calling 911 on his smartphone after having an emergency or accident at home
If you believe someone has been affected by carbon monoxide poisoning, open windows and doors or evacuate the home and call 911. (Photo via Getty)

How do you prevent carbon monoxide poisoning?

Carbon monoxide poisoning is preventable with proper tools and maintenance. The most important way to keep your family safe is by outfitting your home with a battery-operated carbon monoxide detector. You should install one on each level of your home and near the bedrooms, replacing the batteries twice a year.

The Canadian Red Cross says it's also important to have fuel-based appliances and equipment serviced annually by a qualified professional and to never run a vehicle inside a garage.

Aside from the recommended tools and servicing, look out for other people in your community by checking in on them if you haven’t seen them in a while.

"Certainly neighbours have rescued lots of people in my experience," LeDez says.

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