HOUSTON (February 15, 2021)

Memorial Hermann Health System has seen an increased amount of patients suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning within the past 24 hours due to the unsafe use of generators or grills. There has also been an increase in burns caused by space heaters.

“If you’re using generators to supply power, the generator needs to remain outside,” said Dr. Samuel Prater, Associate Professor and Executive Vice-Chair of Clinical Affairs with McGovern Medical School at UTHealth and Medical Director of the Emergency Department at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center. “Also, under no circumstances should barbeque pits be used inside the home to create warmth.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), carbon monoxide (CO) is an odorless, colorless gas that can cause sudden illness and death if inhaled. When power outages occur during emergencies such as hurricanes or winter storms, the use of alternative sources of fuel or electricity for heating, cooling, or cooking can cause CO to build up in a home, garage, or camper and poison the people and animals inside.

“If you or a family member is experiencing headache, nausea or muscle aches without fever, it could be carbon monoxide poisoning,” said Dr. Christopher Langan, VP and Chief Medical Officer at Memorial Hermann The Woodlands Medical Center and Memorial Hermann Northeast Hospital. “It’s extremely important to check CO monitors to make sure they are functioning properly. CO rises, so please consider the above floors as well. The best way to stay warm without power is to bundle and layer as if you’re going outside.”

Some additional CO tips from the CDC include:

  • Never use a gas range or oven to heat a home.
  • Never leave the motor running in a vehicle parked in an enclosed or partially enclosed space, such as a garage.
  • Never use a generator, pressure washer, or any gasoline-powered engine inside your home, basement, or garage or less than 20 feet from any window, door, or vent. Use an extension cord that is more than 20 feet long to keep the generator at a safe distance.
  • When using a generator, use a battery-powered or battery backup CO detector in your home.
  • Never run a generator, pressure washer, or any gasoline-powered engine inside a basement, garage, or other enclosed structure, even if the doors or windows are open, unless the equipment is professionally installed and vented. Keep vents and flues free of debris, especially if winds are high. Flying debris can block ventilation lines.
  • Generators are not designed to run continuously without end. Make sure to check your generator’s instruction manual and give it rest as needed.
  • Never use a charcoal grill, hibachi, lantern, or portable camping stove inside a home, tent, or camper.
  • If conditions are too hot or too cold, seek shelter with friends or at a community shelter. If seeking shelter with friends or family, please keep proper COVID-19 safety precautions in mind, such as mask-wearing and social distancing.
  • If CO poisoning is suspected, call 911 or your local Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222 or consult a health care professional right away.

Space Heater Safety:

  • Use a space heater that has been tested to the latest safety standards and certified by a nationally-recognized testing laboratory. These heaters will have the most up-to-date safety features; older space heaters may not meet the newer safety standards. An unvented gas space heater that meets current safety standards will shut off if oxygen levels fall too low.
  • Place the heater on a level, hard and nonflammable surface (such as ceramic tile floor), not on rugs or carpets or near bedding or drapes. Keep the heater at least three feet from bedding, drapes, furniture and other flammable materials. Keep children and pets away from space heaters.
  • To prevent the risk of fire, NEVER leave a space heater on when you go to sleep or place a space heater close to any sleeping person. Turn the space heater off if you leave the area.

In addition, millions of people across Texas are currently without power. If you’re not experiencing a power outage at home, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) urges you to reduce your power use today to help lessen the overwhelming power demand:

  • Set thermostats at 68 degrees.
  • Do not operate major appliances.
  • Turn lights off when not needed.
  • Unplug lamps and other appliances when not in use.
  • Open curtains and blinds today to allow sunshine to help heat your home.