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Carbon Monoxide Poisoning in Florida During the 2004 Hurricane Season

      Background

      During August–September 2004, four major hurricanes hit Florida, resulting in widespread power outages affecting several million households. Carbon monoxide (CO) poisonings during this period were investigated to identify ways to prevent future poisoning.

      Methods

      Medical records from ten hospitals (two with hyperbaric oxygen chambers) were reviewed to identify individuals diagnosed with unintentional CO poisoning between August 13 and October 15, 2004. Multiple attempts were made to interview one person from each nonfatal incident. Medical examiner records and reports of investigations conducted by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission of six fatal poisonings from five additional incidents were also reviewed.

      Results

      A total of 167 people treated for nonfatal CO poisoning were identified, representing 51 incidents. A portable, gasoline-powered generator was implicated in nearly all nonfatal incidents and in all fatal poisonings. Generators were most often located outdoors, followed by inside the garage, and inside the home. Telephone interviews with representatives of 35 (69%) incidents revealed that concerns about theft or exhaust most often influenced the choice of location. Twenty-six (74%) households did not own a generator before the hurricanes, and 86% did not have a CO detector at the time of the poisoning. Twenty-one (67%) households reported reading or hearing CO education messages before the incident.

      Conclusions

      Although exposure to public education messages may have encouraged more appropriate use of generators, a substantial number of people were poisoned even when the devices were operated outdoors. Additional educational efforts and engineering solutions that reduce CO emission from generators should be the focus of public health activities.
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