The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a Health Alert Network advisory Thursday warning of the risks of carbon monoxide poisoning in the aftermath of Hurricane Laura, which slammed into the Louisiana coast early Thursday as a powerful Category 4 storm.
The storm has knocked out power to thousands of homes and businesses and people could turn to “alternate power sources such as gasoline generators and may use propane or charcoal grills for cooking,” the CDC said.
“If used or placed improperly, these sources can lead to CO build up inside buildings, garages, or campers and poison the people and animals inside.”
The agency is warning clinicians in the hurricane zone to pay attention to symptoms that could be related to CO poisoning.
While the symptoms of CO poisoning are “variable and non-specific,” they can include headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, weakness, chest pain and altered mental status.
No fever with symptoms, a history of exposure or multiple people with similar complaints are red flags for carbon monoxide exposure.
Babies, pregnant women, the elderly and people with chronic conditions, such as anemia, respiratory illness or heart disease are most at risk for CO poisoning, the agency said.
“Appropriate and prompt diagnostic testing and treatment are crucial to reduce morbidity and prevent mortality from CO poisoning,” the CDC said in the health advisory. “Identifying and mitigating the CO source is critical in preventing other poisoning cases.”
The CDC issued recommendations for clinicians on what to look for and how to treat possible CO exposure or poisoning.
For example, after a clinician assesses a patient’s symptoms and activities, “Evaluation should include examination for other conditions including smoke inhalation, trauma, medical illness, or intoxication.”
The advisory includes specific treatments for CO poisoning and other steps to take. “Be aware that CO exposure may be ongoing for others spending time in or near the same environment as the patient.” These people should be tested, as well, the agency said.
Clinicians should notify emergency medical services, the fire department or law enforcement to investigate the source of the carbon monoxide and advise patients about safe practices for operating generators, grills, camp stoves or other alternative fuel-burning devices.