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A recent BBC investigation has highlighted fears that many cases of carbon monoxide poisoning in UK homes are being underreported and misdiagnosed.
Carbon monoxide is a colourless, odourless gas which can leak from poorly-installed or badly-maintained boilers, gas appliances or flues.
But it appears that many people do not know that they have been - or even are being - exposed to this deadly gas…
Official Health and Safety Executive (HSE) figures show that four people died and 117 fell ill as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning at home in the year ending June 2010.
But a recent edition of the radio programme 5 Live Investigates, broadcast on 17th April 2011, suggest that the true figures might be a lot higher. The broadcast quoted a circular distributed to health professionals by Chief Medical Officer Professor Dame Sally Davies which concluded that carbon monoxide poisoning was “almost certainly under-diagnosed”.
The HSE has also accepted that there is underreporting in all health and safety matters.
Reasons for misdiagnosis
Carbon monoxide has been dubbed the silent killer for good reason – its colourless, odourless properties make it difficult to detect. The symptoms suffered by people exposed to it – dizziness, nausea, shortness of breath – are so similar to many other conditions.
Another possible cause of misdiagnosis lies in the fact that medical staff (and pathologists), according to the BBC investigation, do not routinely test for the poisoning.
Carbon monoxide only remains in the blood stream for a short period of time – long enough to sometimes be fatal, but short enough to make detection difficult.
Stacey Rodgers is well-aware of the lasting impact of carbon monoxide. Her son Dominic was killed by fumes leaking from a neighbouring property while he slept in his bed eight years ago. He was just ten years old.
Speaking to BBC News in March, Mrs Rodgers said: “Three things killed Dominic; the faulty boiler next door, a wrongly-sited flue within the passage and the way the wind was blowing that night.”
Poor maintenance and installation is a major cause of carbon monoxide poisoning and is the reason why it is compulsory that people carrying out fitting and maintenance work on gas appliances have professional membership of the Gas Safe Register.
Before Dominic died, Mrs Rodgers had never heard of carbon monoxide. She has now founded the campaign group CO Angels which is campaigning to get an extra 10 million alarms fitted in UK homes by 2020.
She says: “Be alarm, be aware and protect your family. Carbon monoxide alarms cost as little as £20 and they could help you save someone’s life.”
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