Thu, Nov 30, 2006 - Page 2 News List

Doctors warn of dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning

By Angelica Oung  /  STAFF REPORTER

Doctors with the National Poison Center called upon the public to be aware of carbon monoxide poisoning as winter approaches.

"I think the correlation between the onset of cold weather and accidental carbon monoxide poisoning is obvious," said Den Jou-fang (鄧昭芳), director of the clinical toxicology division at Taipei Veterans General Hospital.

"We get nervous whenever we hear that strong winds are forecasted," Den said.

However, many people do not know about the long-term effects of carbon monoxide poisoning.

"Oxygen starvation causes organ damage all over the body," said Lin Chun-chi (林純吉), another doctor in the toxicology division.

"But it is only in the brain that the damage is irreversible," Lin said.

For some victims, initial recovery can be followed by deterioration in their condition weeks after exposure.

Lin cited the case of a 54-year-old woman who was released from the hospital after responding to hyperbaric oxygen therapy. However, her condition began to worsen soon afterwards and she eventually fell into a vegetative state.

"Delayed neuropsychiatric effect can show up days or months afterwards, as a result it often strikes after patients and their families believe they have overcome the crisis," Lin said.

According to the hospital's records, the number of hospitalizations due to carbon monoxide poisoning has increased rapidly in recent years. Since 2002, cases of accidental poisoning have been outnumbered by suicide attempts.

"This is no longer just a medical problem, but a social problem," Lin said.

Lin's presentation showed that people who attempt to kill themselves through carbon monoxide are much more likely to sustain brain damage and delayed neuropsychiatric effects.

Lin's presentation was part of ceremonies to mark the poison center's 20th anniversary.

In addition to the more mundane carbon monoxide poisonings and snake bites, the center has dealt with more exotic cases, such as hot springs customers poisoned by hydrogen sulfide, whelks in Pingtung containing the same poison as the fugu fish, "weight-loss vegetables" containing lung-damaging alkaloids and a family poisoned after accidentally coating their fried sweet potatoes with barium salts instead of flour.

Yang Chen-chang (楊振昌), another doctor in the toxicology department, emphasized the importance of the center as a centralized source of specialist knowledge in poisoning cases.

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