’This is a public health emergency’: Local carbon monoxide poisoning cases surge

KPRC 2 reporter Jacob Rascon is covering the story.

HOUSTON – Houstonians and others desperate to heat their homes without power poisoned themselves in record numbers on Tuesday by running cars or generators in the garage and grills in the home, emergency officials said.

More than 100 patients in less than 24 hours had to be rushed to Memorial Hermann, its medical director reported. More than half of them, children.

“It certainly happens when it gets cold, but never in these numbers,” said Dr. Samuel Prater. “This is an absolute public health disaster.”

“This carbon monoxide is … a poison that deprives your brain and your heart and your other vital organs of oxygen,” he added. “And children are actually more at risk from some of the long-term brain damage.”

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said more than 300 reports of carbon monoxide poisoning were reported Tuesday. The Houston Fire Department reported 90 emergency calls of the poisoning, including 14 at one station in Cy-fair.

Early Tuesday morning, first responders conducting a welfare check found a family of four in their Southwest Houston townhome unconscious with the car running in the garage.

The father and his 7-year-old son were rushed to the hospital. The mother and her 8-year-old daughter did not survive.

“One of the very first symptoms you’re going to notice is that you have a mild headache, maybe feel a little dizzy, maybe a little nauseous,” Dr. Prater said. “[A]s the level of carbon monoxide goes up in your blood, your symptoms become much worse. Your headache is much worse, you may have problems with vision, you may start repeatedly vomiting, you may start hearing ringing in your ears. Then the person becomes confused, they may actually pass out or lose consciousness, or become comatose.”

“Some of the long-term effects that you can see is you can see some permanent brain damage, sometimes, whether that’s stroke-like brain damage, or even sometimes, very unusual, we call them psychiatric symptoms,” he added. “So even folks who don’t die, they can still have some long-term, permanent brain damage as a result of the poisoning if it is not quickly identified and then remedied.”