Intermountain Healthcare

The Silent Killer: Intermountain Doctors and Clearfield Family Issue Warning About Carbon Monoxide Poisoning After a Close Call with the Dangerous Gas


Salt Lake City, UT -- (ReleaseWire) -- 12/09/2020 --Winter is here and the temperatures are dropping, which means now is the perfect time to check the furnace.

In late October, Intermountain Healthcare clinicians treated a Clearfield family of five for carbon monoxide poisoning after their home furnace malfunctioned.

Dr. Lindell Weaver, medical director of the Hyperbaric Medicine Center at Intermountain Medical Center and LDS Hospital, says as temperatures get colder and Utahns turn on their heaters they need to also remember to protect themselves and their families from this silent and deadly gas.

On a Tuesday night Laura Nava went to bed with a slight headache. That headache woke her up at 5 am. Her husband was also experiencing the same symptoms. Not realizing their home was filling with deadly carbon monoxide gas, they took some over the counter pain medication and went back to sleep.

After sleeping through their morning alarms, they both woke up dizzy and their children ages 1, 4, and 7, began vomiting. Trejo says her baby boy woke up looking yellow and couldn't stand up in his crib.

After ruling out COVID-19 and other possible illnesses, Nava realized they also smelled gas in the home and called the gas company's emergency line, prompting them to go to a local hospital's emergency department. Soon after, the whole family were in two ambulances headed to LDS Hospital for specialized hyperbaric oxygen treatment.

At Intermountain's hyperbaric medicine department, carbon monoxide-poisoned patients are treated with hyperbaric oxygen that is delivered by breathing pure oxygen. During the treatment, patients are placed inside a pressurized hyperbaric chamber to reduce the chance of permanent brain damage.

Although treatment for carbon monoxide poisoning reduces the risk of possible permanent brain or cardiac injury, disability can still occur.

"It's vital that people take the necessary precautions to prevent and avoid carbon monoxide exposure, as it's the best way to keep everyone safe," said Dr. Weaver.

Trejo is now reminding all Utahns to check their furnaces and to know the signs of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Carbon monoxide (CO) is often called the "Silent Killer," because of its ability to take lives quickly and quietly. It's virtually undetectable by humans in the United States, because it's colorless, odorless and tasteless. In high enough concentrations, it can kill within minutes and claims hundreds of lives each year.

CO is often produced from a faulty furnace or other heating sources inside the home. Exposures to CO also comes from automobile exhaust, small gas engines, and other fuel operated machines being used in poorly ventilated spaces.

"Nausea, tiredness, aches, and pains are just some of the carbon monoxide poisoning symptoms – they are very similar to the flu," said Dr. Weaver. "If you suspect you have been exposed to high levels of carbon monoxide you should leave immediately and seek help."

Technicians responding to the Trejo's home say they recorded carbon monoxide levels at 250 ppm (parts per million). According to the World Health Organization, the maximum allowable CO exposure is 9 ppm over 8 hours and 6 ppm over 24 hours.

Dr. Weaver offered these steps help people reduce their risk of exposure:

– Schedule an annual check-up for your furnace and hot water heater. It's important to have all gas-fired furnaces and hot water heaters checked by heating and air conditioning (HVAC) professionals annually. Furnaces can crack and exhaust vents can become obstructed.

– Every home and business should have a carbon monoxide alarm. Carbon monoxide alarms should meet the UL2034 standard. Alarms with a digital display add an additional level of protection. It's possible for carbon monoxide to be present in levels that will show on the digital display but lower than the level necessary to trigger an alarm.

If your digital carbon monoxide alarm detects even a low level of gas, have the area checked by the gas company or an HVAC specialist, recommends Dr. Weaver.

Anyone with prior CO poisoning, the young, the elderly, those with health problems, and pregnant women should also consider a low-level CO alarm. These will sound an alarm with exposure to CO levels considerably lower than the UL2034 alarms.

– Replace your carbon monoxide alarm every five years and consider bringing one along when you travel.

– Be aware of symptoms. Carbon monoxide poisoning can be lethal, sometimes with no advance sign of trouble. This is especially true when people are exposed during their sleep and are unaware or unable to call for help.

For more information on carbon monoxide poisoning and prevention, see:

About Intermountain Healthcare
Intermountain Healthcare is a not-for-profit system of 24 hospitals, 215 clinics, a Medical Group with 2,500 employed physicians and advanced practice clinicians, a health insurance company called SelectHealth, and other health services in Idaho, Utah, and Nevada. Intermountain is widely recognized as a leader in transforming healthcare by using evidence-based best practices to consistently deliver high-quality outcomes and sustainable costs. For more information, see