SALT LAKE CITY — A family of six, including three children, was hospitalized Monday for carbon monoxide poisoning. Emergency workers say the family could have died, but dialed 911 "just in time."
For emergency room doctors, carbon monoxide cases are all too common each winter.
For the past couple of days, residents at 457 E. Redondo Ave. (2015 South) in Salt Lake City had been feeling sick. Family members had been experiencing headaches, nausea, and feeling lethargic. The family, however, "thought they had all caught a bug," said Salt Lake fire spokesman Jasen Asay.
Monday morning, after the family again "all woke up and felt sick with flu like symptoms," Asay said they decided to call 911.
It turned out that the family alerted emergency officials to the problem in their home "just in time," he said. Emergency crews found that the carbon monoxide levels were so high in the house, the family may not have survived another day.
"The paramedics said they caught it just at the right time. If they had waited any longer, it could have extremely dangerous and possibly even fatal," Asay said.
Two parents, the husband's adult brother, and three children ranging in age from 19 months to 9 years old, were transported to local hospitals. They were all treated in hyperbaric chambers, which allowed them to breathe 100 percent oxygen.
But Dr. Lin Weaver, the director of hyperbaric medicine at Intermountain Medical Center, said even though the family looks fine now on the surface, he's not prepared to give them a completely clean bill of health.
"I think they're lucky they're not dead. Time will tell how they do. There's no way I'm going to say they're all going to be fine because I don't know that right now," he said Monday. "Right now they look OK. But the problem with carbon monoxide is new problems can develop even weeks after poisoning."
Although doctors cannot predict who will likely suffer from the lingering effects of carbon monoxide poisoning, Weaver said this family — and any other family that has been poisoned — should watch for red flags such as "headaches, dizziness, not feeling well, certainly not thinking like they did before."
They're the same symptoms that families should look for if they're wondering whether they've been exposed to carbon monoxide.
"If a whole family gets sick at the same time with headache, nausea vomiting and no one has a fever, no one has a runny nose, you'd better think about carbon monoxide poisoning," he said. "Now, I'm not saying everybody with a headache needs to go into the E.R. and have it checked. But I'm saying if the whole family gets sick at the same time and no one has fever, you gotta kind of wonder about it."
Carbon monoxide poisoning is the most common type of poisoning both in Utah and the U.S., Weaver said. He said his hospital used to track with the Utah Department of Health the number of carbon monoxide poisoning cases each year. That number was between 350 and 400 documented cases annually.
In Monday's case, firefighters and crews from the gas company confirmed the family's water heater wasn't ventilating properly and the home was filling with carbon monoxide.
Asay said the family is extremely lucky considering they did not have any carbon monoxide detectors in the home. The family had recently had their fireplace checked out, but not the water heater.
Because the overwhelming majority of residents in Utah have furnaces, Weaver said he sees more carbon monoxide poisoning cases during the winter than during the summer.
"I have my furnace checked every year, annually, by a certified (professional) and I have carbon monoxide alarms. I have several actually," Weaver said.
Residents shouldn't assume that because their furnace worked without problems last winter that it will still work problem-free this winter, the doctor said.
"The problem with the furnace could be the flue is bad, a bird built a nest in the flue, we've seen that. We've seen flues break, crack. We've seen heat exchanges break. We've seen faulty insulation," he said.
Weaver also has several different types of carbon monoxide detectors in his house, each with a different type of sensor. Although some CO detectors might be more expensive than others, "You can't even put a price on it if you get permanent brain damage."