Two exposed to CO every day, says six-year study

Two people every day show symptoms of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning, the National Poisons Information Service (NPIS) has reported. But the real figure could be much higher because of differences in how CO exposure is recorded and reported.

In a six-year project, funded by the CO Research Trust, the NPIS collected data on 4,323 enquiries from healthcare professionals treating CO-poisoned patients in all four UK nations.

This data includes information on clinical parameters including bio-markers, poisoning severity and the source and location of the exposure: this information is not traditionally included in other epidemiological studies using coded hospital data. It includes admitted patients, patients presenting to emergency departments who are discharged without admission, and those assessed in the community who have not attended a hospital.

However, the data from this study only represents cases where health professionals have contacted the NPIS for clinical management advice. The true incidence of CO poisoning in the UK is likely to be significantly greater.

Dr Daniela Gentile, who led the NPIS study, says. “Minor exposures where the patient does not present for assessment or a clinician does not require NPIS advice are not included. Similarly, severe exposures resulting in out-of-hospital deaths are also not included.

“The true picture is likely to be a much higher number of people who are being exposed to CO. However, the data from the NPIS study gives greater detail relating to exposures, which provides more context to the incident.”

Reports covered all age groups but most frequently involved children and adults aged 20-39. The exposures most commonly occurred at home as the result of faulty boilers.

Where the information was volunteered, a CO alarm activating was reported in just over 20 per cent. The majority of these cases were associated with mild or no symptoms.

CORT head of charitable operations Adrian McConnell says: “This project has delivered data which allows us to see who is being exposed to CO and what is causing the most exposures. This information is critical if we are to work towards preventing and protecting people from further CO exposures in the future.”

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