Carbon monoxide poisoning claims about 4,000 lives a year in the U.S. (figures for SA not available). In addition, about 10,000 people are made ill by lower levels of exposure to carbon monoxide (US).
What is it?
Carbon monoxide is a by-product of combustion. The less complete the burning (combustion), the more carbon monoxide is generated. One of the reasons carbon monoxide is so deadly is that you generally can’t see or smell it: rarely do its victims have any warning. Low levels of poisoning tend to cause flu-like symptoms, so that people think they are just catching a cold. More advanced poisoning can cause vomiting and headaches and even death. Carbon monoxide is deadly because it tricks the body into thinking it is oxygen. The body actually prefers carbon monoxide, choosing it over oxygen when both are present in the atmosphere.
Once in the body, carbon monoxide goes everywhere in the body, including the brain. Children, in particular, are quite susceptible to brain damage after relatively low levels of exposure.