(CNN) — A giant winter storm that brought ice and freezing temperatures across a large swath of the country has left more than 5 million people without power, creating another potentially dangerous situation for Americans unaccustomed to freezing temperatures.
As people try to stay warm without electricity, they are at risk of carbon monoxide poisoning when using unconventional heat sources, such as stoves, grills, or generators.
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Carbon monoxide poisoning appears to have been the cause of the death of a woman and a girl during this week’s frost in Houston, police said Tuesday, and investigators believe a car was running in a garage to generate heat in the attached house after the power went out.
Here’s what you need to know and do to stay safe and warm during the cold snap.
Carbon monoxide is tasteless and odorless
Carbon monoxide is a gas that has no odor, color, or taste.
Although you can’t see or smell it, it can be extremely dangerous to your health and possibly even fatal.
LOOK: The dangers of carbon monoxide
You might feel like you have the flu
While it’s tempting to turn on a gas stove or oven, or perhaps get in a car to warm up, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say those options can be deadly, as More than 400 Americans die each year from carbon monoxide poisoning, many because they have tried improvised solutions during power outages.
“Each year, more than 400 Americans die from unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning not related to fires, more than 20,000 end up in the emergency room, and more than 4,000 are hospitalized,” said the CDC.
If you suffer from carbon monoxide poisoning, you could experience flu-like symptoms, such as a headache, dizziness, or weakness.
Breathing too much carbon monoxide can cause you to lose consciousness, and people who are sleeping or drunk can die before they even experience any other symptoms, according to the CDC.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can come from many sources
The CDC warns that carbon monoxide poisoning can come from a variety of different sources.
“Carbon monoxide (CO) is found in the fumes that are produced every time you burn fuel in cars or trucks, small engines, stoves, flashlights, grills, fireplaces, gas stoves or ovens. CO can accumulate indoors and poison people and animals that breathe, ”says the agency’s website.
Americans are advised not to start cars or trucks inside attached garages, even if the door is left open. Nor should people heat their homes with gas ovens or burn anything in a stove or fireplace that is not vented, the CDC warns.
Even using devices outside the home comes with the precaution of staying more than 20 feet from a window, door, or vent, to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning when using a generator, charcoal grill, or camping stove.
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Louisiana officials issue a warning
The Louisiana Department of Health issued updated warnings Monday amid state outages.
People die every year, especially after hurricanes hit the area, due to carbon monoxide poisoning from generators.
Multiple deaths during hurricanes from carbon monoxide poisoning
At least nine deaths associated with Hurricane Laura were caused by improper use of portable devices such as generators.
Although they are dealing with a different kind of severe weather, the risk of poisoning still remains.
“Portable generators should never be used indoors. This includes use inside a garage, carport, basement, crawl space or other enclosed or partially enclosed area, even those with ventilation, ”said a warning from the state health department. “Gas generators exhaust carbon monoxide (CO), which is odorless and colorless.”
“Inhaling CO can quickly lead to total disability or death,” he added.
He also said that CO can build up if even the windows and doors are open.
Get fresh air
The department warns anyone who is using a different heat or power source and feels unwell to get outside immediately.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism