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Why is carbon monoxide referred to as 'the silent killer?'

Carbon monoxide poisoning can mimic common illnesses often seen in school settings – making front line workers (such as teachers, administrators) key in recognizing a developing situation. A key indicator of an issue occurring is onset of symptoms among more than one person within the same space – which may be occurring rapidly.

Can carbon monoxide hurt you?

Carbon monoxide is called 'the silent killer' because it is a colorless, odorless, and tasteless poison. It can only be detected with a detection device – the longer a person is exposed, the more health effects they will experience. If exposed long enough, or to large amounts in a short period of time, organ damage and death can occur.


How does carbon monoxide affect the body?

Carbon monoxide in the air rapidly enters all parts of the body, including blood, brain and muscles – through simply breathing in. The carbon monoxide in your body leaves through your lungs when you breathe out. Carbon monoxide binds to your red blood cells, essentially starving your body of the vital oxygen it needs to function correctly.


What is acute carbon monoxide poisoning?

Acute carbon monoxide poisoning occurs with short-term high-level exposure and requires immediate medical intervention. Based on exposure duration and amount, as well as the health/age of the person, those exposed may suffer from irreversible organ and brain damage, or even die before anyone recognizes there is a problem.

Escalation of symptoms with acute poisoning can happen quickly:
Starts as: slight headache, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, flu-like symptoms

Moves to: throbbing headache, drowsiness, confusion, fast heart rate

Then: convulsions, unconsciousness, brain damage, organ failure, death


What is chronic carbon monoxide poisoning?

Chronic carbon monoxide poisoning can occur due to repeated, long-term, low-level exposure and is often missed as the correct diagnosis due to its ability to mimic more common conditions. While victims of chronic CO poisoning are not at risk of immediate death, they will often face long-term health issues that will be unexplained or misdiagnosed during or after continued exposure.

Symptoms of chronic poisoning show themselves over time and can include: behavior changes, mood disorders, recurring/unexplained illnesses, onset of lung/heart/brain damage, body system interference, toxin poisoning symptoms.



A CO monitor "measures" CO and shows you the CO ppm in the air around your device on a digital display. It can be portable, wearable and should be in the hands of every maintenance team member throughout the day. A CO monitor will not alert, only measure, but is extremely critical when responding to suspected equipment issues or  malfunctioning systems that are, in fact, toxic emergency situations.


A CO alarm is what most people refer to and think of as 'a detector.'  It is a stand alone device – typically plug in or battery operated (or both) – with sensor/audible alert used in single rooms or residential properties. It 'alerts' with a loud chirping sound when CO accumulates to a certain level, over a certain amount of time based on manufacturer settings. It does not alert authorities, only the people around the alarm itself.


A CO Detection System is an integrated system of detectors (often tied to a central dashboard or fire system) that can alert building administrators and emergency personnel when any detector in the network senses an issue. These are often hardwired into a building's security or emergency response system, allowing first responders to be notified should building occupants not be able to call 911.

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