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Silent killer snuffs 35 lives in 7 years

SHARE Silent killer snuffs 35 lives in 7 years

The killer crept into the West Jordan home one evening in April, snuffing out the lives of two brothers.

Late last month, another victim succumbed to the killer, discovered dead by his family after being overtaken in the night.The victims are random, innocent and have lost their lives much too young.

The tragedy, too, is not that this killer is some deranged murderer on the run from the law, but carbon monoxide - a deadly poison that could already be lurking in your home.

State Department of Health statistics show there were 35 deaths in Utah between 1990 and 1996 due to carbon monoxide poisoning.

So far this year along the Wasatch Front, at least four people have died from exposure to carbon monoxide, including the two brothers in West Jordan and Robert John Rice, whose body was found in his garage June 27. He died after working on his car in the garage with the engine running and the door closed.

Months after Reg Dean Wilson, 39, and Sam Eugene Wilson, 31, died in West Jordan due to a faulty furnace, their father is struggling to deal with the loss.

The men died April 8 after moving into a rental house. Police found one of the men lying in a hall and the other one still in bed, after having apparently gone to sleep and never awakening.

Lorin Wilson said the death of his sons has been a horrible blow.

"I might as well be dead," he said. "That's how I feel. . . . I see their pictures and I go nuts."

Carbon monoxide is a killer because it robs blood cells of oxygen. The red blood cells actually prefer carbon monoxide over oxygen, so a slow, internal suffocation begins.

Its deadliness is further enhanced because symptoms, in many cases, mimic the flu. People exposed to carbon monoxide may experience headaches, nausea, vomiting and dizziness. If it is a rapid, extreme exposure, such as the West Jordan man who succumbed to the gas in his garage, those symptoms may be bypassed altogether and the victim simply gets tired.

Martin Caravati, associate medical director of the Utah Poison Control Center, said carbon monoxide quietly kills its victims because it is odorless, tasteless and colorless. "People don't know that it is there."

Caravati said because the symptoms do vary, many people make the dangerous mistake of underestimating what is happening to them.

In the West Jordan fatality late last month, several members of the family were poisoned after the gas seeped into their home.

Caravati said a simple indicator the poisoning is happening is if household members simultaneously develop symptoms like nausea and vomiting.

"It's very unusual for everyone in the house to come down with the flu at once," he said.

A simple blood test at a hospital will reveal the presence of carbon monoxide if exposure has happened.

If someone suffers a significant exposure to carbon monoxide but survives, Caravati said long-term chronic effects include neurological damage such as loss of coordination, memory problems and trouble concentrating.

Although carbon monoxide poisonings occur more frequently in the fall when furnaces are being turned on, Caravati warns that the poisonous gas is an all-season killer.

The West Jordan fatality is an unfortunate example of how the poison naturally occurs in exhaust fumes or can be the unintentional by-product of a malfunctioning furnace or propane heater.

Caravati said carbon monoxide acts in such a stealthy way, commercially purchased carbon monoxide detectors are now being recommended as standard safety equipment for homes.

Just like smoke detectors are urged for every bedroom in the house, safety officials are now advising people to invest the $40 for a carbon monoxide detector.

Caravati said the price should be well worth the protection the device offers against a silent killer that is invisible and strikes with very little warning.