Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

1. Definition. Carbon Monoxide (CO) is a heavy, odorless, colorless, tasteless gas resulting from incomplete combustion of fossil fuels. CO kills through asphyxia even in the presence of adequate oxygen, because oxygen-transporting hemoglobin has a 210 times greater affinity for CO than for oxygen. What this means is that CO replaces and takes the place of the oxygen in the body causing Carbon Monoxide poisoning.

2. Signs/Symptoms. The signs and symptoms depend on the amount of CO the victim has inhaled. In mild cases, the victim may have only dizziness, headache, and confusion; severe cases can cause a deep coma. Sudden respiratory arrest may occur. The classic sign of CO poisoning is cherry-red lip color, but this is usually a very late and severe sign, actually the skin is normally found to be pale or blue.

CO poisoning should be suspected whenever a person in a poorly ventilated area suddenly collapses. Recognizing this condition may be difficult when all members of the party are affected.

3. Treatment. The first step is to immediately remove the victim from the contaminated area.

a) Victims with mild CO poisoning who have not lost consciousness need fresh air and light duty for a minimum of four hours. If oxygen is available administer it. More severely affected victims may require rescue breathing.

b) Fortunately, the lungs excrete CO within a few hours.

c) Prevention. Ensure there is adequate ventilation when utilizing a fire near your shelter.

6. MEDICAL AID. Unfortunately, during a survival situation, a corpsman may not always be available to render assistance. Therefore, the survivor must be knowledgeable in basic first aid as taught in the Marine Battle Skills Training Handbook.

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