NORMAL — Carbon monoxide poisoning is a greater possibility now that cold temperatures have closed windows and changed thermostats to "heat."

Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless and toxic gas that can kill before its victim is aware of the danger.

At lower levels of exposure, CO causes mild effects that are often mistaken for the flu, such as headaches, dizziness, disorientation, nausea and fatigue.

Residents should have a working CO alarm in the home and test it on a monthly basis, just as you should with your smoke alarms.

Carbon monoxide is the leading cause of accidental poisoning deaths in United States, with more than 20,000 people hospitalized and nearly 500 killed each year. The Centers for Disease Control said carbon monoxide cases have climbed 36 percent between 2001 and 2006.

Carbon monoxide can be a byproduct of appliances using natural gas or propane, or from exhaust fumes. State law requires a CO alarm for any home with fuel-fired appliances.

Tips to stay safe:

  • Have gas appliances checked periodically for proper operation and venting.
  • Make sure flues, chimneys and vents are clear of debris and in good working order.
  • Do not use un-vented space heaters, gas stoves, charcoal grills or Sterno-type fuels as sources of heat.
  • Do not cook on charcoal grills indoors.
  • Do not run gasoline-powered engines in a garage, even with doors open. CO may build to dangerous levels and enter the home.

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