SALT LAKE CITY — You’re resting on the couch, enjoying a cup of hot chocolate in front of a warm fire. Strangely, you feel more tired than usual. In fact, you think you’re getting a little sick to your stomach and your head hearts. It must be that dreaded flu that’s going around. But when you find yourself feeling short of breath and dizzy, you wonder if something else is wrong.

Hopefully you’ll realize what that "something" is in time. If not, you could be a victim of an invisible killer — one that, according to the Centers for Disease Control, claims more than 500 lives in the United States every year. The culprit: CO (carbon monoxide) poisoning.

Comment on this story

According to the Mayo Clinic, the young, elderly and those with respiratory problems are especially susceptible to CO poisoning. Because the body absorbs CO faster than plain oxygen, the body quickly becomes saturated. In fact, at a high rate, it takes only one hour for unconsciousness to occur. Death is possible within two to three hours.

With winter around the corner and the continued increase in heating oil and natural gas prices causing many to seek alternatives, it's more important than ever to exercise caution.

The following are some do's and don'ts from the CDC.

  • DO service all water heaters and furnaces and check fireplaces each year.
  • DO install a battery-operated CO detector low to the floor on each level of your house, including the basement.
  • DO check gas stoves frequently when cooking to make sure unused burners are off and any necessary burners stay lit.
  • DO seek medical help if you feel any of the above symptoms, especially if multiple members of your apartment or household do.
  • DO call your gas or heating company if you smell any leaks.
  • DO be especially alert if any natural disaster occurs, such as an earthquake, tornado or hurricane. Damage to natural gas lines should be expected. Know where your turn-off valves are and alert your local company. After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, there were 51 cases of carbon monoxide poisoning reported to local hospitals in New Orleans alone. Sadly, six of those became fatalities.
  • DON’T use charcoal grills, a gas oven or butane heaters to heat your home.
  • DON’T burn anything in a stove or fireplace that isn’t vented.
  • DON’T warm your car up in a garage if the garage door is closed, and always use caution if the garage is attached to the house. Even running an engine for short periods can produce substantial amounts of carbon monoxide and other pollutants.
Common sense is the best tool to prevent CO poisoning from happening in the first place, but don’t think it can’t happen to you. Be aware of the dangers and don’t become another victim.

Kim Grant has written for magazines like LDSLiving, the Washington Family, Back Home, Parents & Kids, and Natural Life. She has two novels with Covenant Communications. Her website is at