With severe winter weather bearing down on many parts of the country and causing widespread power outages, experts caution that using a gasoline-powered generator in your home for backup power can put you at risk for deadly carbon monoxide poisoning.
In a study of 100 people with carbon monoxide poisoning seen in four hospital emergency rooms after a 1998 Maine ice storm left 600,000 people without power, the majority of the cases were associated with using a gas-powered generator in the home.
Generators operated in attached garages were 19 times more likely to cause carbon monoxide poisoning -- and those in basements were more than 300 times more likely -- than generators placed outside or in an unattached structure.
Other than generators, the main source of carbon monoxide poisonings were kerosene and propane heaters.
Carbon monoxide is a poisonous, odorless gas found in the exhaust of motor vehicles and other gasoline-powered devices.
The 59 female and 41 male patients with carbon monoxide poisoning in the Maine study ranged in age from 11 months to 95 years.
Oxygen is the main treatment for carbon monoxide poisoning, and most patients were required to wear an oxygen mask for a few hours to bring down the level of gas in their blood.
Experts cautioned that generators should always be operated outside the home, away from any place where air might enter the home, such as near windows, doors, or vents.
More than 500 people in the United States die from carbon monoxide poisoning each year, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.