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EDITIONS
Monday, 11 January, 1999, 14:20 GMT
Bid to cut carbon monoxide deaths
Many are unaware of the danger carbon monoxide poses
The dangers of faulty heating appliances are to be highlighted in a government campaign aimed at cutting the number of deaths from carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning.

Each year at least 50 people die from inhaling lethal fumes from fossil fuels such as gas and oil, and more than 150 people require hospital treatment.

Although the incidence of CO poisoning has remained fairly constant over the past decade just under half of all deaths occurred in three parts of Britain: in Wales, the East Midlands and West Midlands.

These areas will now form the focus of the government's safety campaign.

According to official figures, Wales has a death rate from carbon monoxide poisoning which is 50% higher than national average; the East Midlands is 25% higher and the West Midlands' death rate is 17% higher than average.

Health officials say there is little research on why these areas are so badly affected.

But some researchers believe coroners from these areas may be more likely to record accidental death verdicts because of the stigma attached to suicides.

Symptoms confused

It believes there is a widespread misconception - that CO poisoning affects only the poor, the old and students living in badly maintained accommodation.

But the deaths before Christmas of two guests staying at a small country hotel underlined the importance of checking heaters regularly.

A build-up of the clear, odourless gas can lead to symptoms that might be mistaken for those of flu.

Warning signs to look out for include gas flames that are normally blue burning orange and sooty stains on or above appliances.

CO reduces the amount of oxygen in the blood. The severity of poisoning depends on a variety of factors, including lung capacity and age.

Common symptoms of low-level poisoning range from headaches, nausea and chest pain to diarrhoea.

Accidental

Recent research shows that 43% of carbon monoxide poisoning cases treated in West Midlands' hospitals were accidental.

The number of admissions has been rising in the 1990s, although the fatality level has remained stable.

They said over half of all cases are due to gas pipe leaks, mobile gas fires or coke, coal or paraffin heaters.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has been sending out warnings about poisoning with gas bills, warning people to get their gas appliances checked.

It also runs a Gas Safety Advice Line from 8am to 9pm from Monday to Friday. This gives advice on poisoning symptoms, how to maintain your gas system and how to report negligence by gas fitters.

The freephone number is 0800 300363.

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