Date issued: 15 May 2020
Issued by: Dr Angie Bone, Deputy Chief Health Officer (Environment), Victoria
Issued to: General Practitioners, Hospital Emergency Departments and other health professionals
- Carbon monoxide is an odourless, colourless gas that may cause symptoms including tiredness, shortness of breath, headaches, dizziness, nausea, weakness, confusion or chest pain if inhaled. Symptoms can be mistaken for a flu-like illness. Very high levels of carbon monoxide can be fatal.
- This winter many Victorians are at home for longer periods due to the current circumstances of coronavirus (COVID-19) and may be running gas heaters for longer periods than usual. This could increase the risk of accidental carbon monoxide poisoning if domestic gas heaters are not regularly maintained, or operated without adequate ventilation (fresh air).
- If carbon monoxide poisoning is suspected, turn off all gas appliances and fans, open windows and doors, leave the property and seek medical advice.
- Medical professionals should:
- exercise a high level of suspicion if similar symptoms are occurring in other members of the household, and the person reports feeling better when away from the house. People and pets may become unwell at the same time.
- test for carboxyhaemoglobin levels in any person with suspected carbon monoxide poisoning
- notify the Environmental Health Unit, Department of Health and Human Services on 1300 761 874 of any cases of confirmed carbon monoxide poisoning in the home
- Energy Safe Victoria recommends that all gas heaters are serviced at least once every two years by a qualified gasfitter. Some models of open-flued gas space heaters are subject to a safety alert and must be rectified as well as serviced before use https://esv.vic.gov.au/safety-alerts/gas-open-flued-gas-heaters/. Installing a carbon monoxide alarm is a useful back-up measure but does not replace the need for regular servicing of gas heaters.
- Before using a gas heater, check that any permanent ventilation in your home is clear and ensure there is fresh air flow into the room. Under certain conditions such as inadequate ventilation or running bathroom exhaust fans or kitchen rangehoods at the same time as an open-flued space heater can result in negative pressure which draws carbon monoxide into the room instead of discharging outside through the flue or chimney.
- Gas heating should not be left running continuously overnight or for extended periods.
- Portable outdoor gas appliances should never be used indoors. Heat beads produce carbon monoxide and should never be used inside for cooking or heating purposes.
Read the full advisory: Carbon monoxide and gas heater safety
Authorised by the Victorian Government, 1 Treasury Place, Melbourne.