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NM EPHT Health Effects: Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

What is Carbon Monoxide or CO?  

Carbon monoxide, or CO, is a highly toxic gas. You cannot see, smell, or taste it. Breathing high levels of carbon monoxide can cause sudden illness or death in a matter of minutes.

Gas- and oil-burning furnaces produce carbon monoxide, an invisible, odorless, poison gas that kills hundreds every year and makes thousands more sick.

Learn more about preventing carbon monoxide poisoning here.

Why Do We Track Carbon Monoxide Poisonings?

Although carbon monoxide poisoning can almost always be prevented, every year more than 10 New Mexicans die as a result of accidental or unintentional exposure to this toxic gas. Studies have found that 10 percent to 40 percent of survivors of severe carbon monoxide poisoning may have long-term neurological problems. The carbon monoxide tracking data can be used to assess the burden of severe carbon monoxide poisoning, monitor trends over time, and to inform prevention, education and evaluation efforts.

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Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Measures

In New Mexico accidental carbon monoxide poisoning–related hospitalizations and death rates are tracked. These are estimates of the number of people residing in New Mexico who were hospitalized for or died from carbon monoxide exposure during a given period of time among all New Mexico residents during that time period.

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Hospitalizations for Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

The rates of hospitalizations for carbon monoxide poisoning are a measure of severe carbon monoxide poisoning illness on the NM Tracking Network. The counts and rates of hospitalization are given for all unintentional fire-related causes, all non-fire-related unintentional causes, and all unknown causes of carbon monoxide poisoning. This measure is an estimate of the number of people living in New Mexico who were hospitalized due to carbon monoxide exposure among New Mexico residents.

Our data indicate there are very few (about 15) accidental or unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning-caused hospitalizations each year in New Mexico. Because this number is so low, analyses by county are not possible on an annual basis and multiple years of the carbon monoxide poisoning hospitalization data will have to be combined for county-level tracking in New Mexico in the future.

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Deaths Due to Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

This measure tracks the number of people who lost their lives as a result of being unintentionally exposed to carbon monoxide. The number of deaths from unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning are used on the New Mexico Tracking Network as a measure of the most severe outcome of breathing high levels of carbon monoxide. The total counts and rates of death are given for all unintentional fire-related causes, all non-fire-related unintentional causes, and all unknown causes of carbon monoxide poisoning.

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Epidemiology Report: Burden of Unintentional Carbon Monoxide Poisonings in New Mexico

This report analyzes data on morbidity and mortality from unintentional CO poisoning from NMEPHT Network from 2008-2013 to: 1) summarize the burden of unintentional CO poisoning in New Mexico, 2) examine special trends by New Mexico health regions and counties, and 3) focus public health interventions to prevent potential exposure to CO and reduce the burden of CO poisoning.   

Burden of Unintentional Carbon Monoxide Poisoning (229.1 KB)

Who is at risk from Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?

People of all ages are at risk for carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon monoxide is most harmful to:

  • Pregnant women and children; carbon monoxide poisoning can be highly dangerous for unborn children, because it greatly increases the risk of fetal death and developmental disorders.
  • People of all ages living with a chronic disorder of the blood (such as anemia), brain (such as seizures or stroke), heart (such as angina or heart failure), or lungs (such as asthma, bronchitis, emphysema).
  • The elderly; older adults more frequently have chronic diseases which lower their tolerance and increase the risk a fatal exposure.

According to a study conducted in the state of Washington, carbon monoxide poisoning has been found to be more common among minorities:

  • Hispanic populations had a three-time greater risk than White populations for carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • 67 percent of Hispanic populations and 40 percent of Black populations became poisoned due to the indoor burning of charcoal briquettes.

Understanding and Preventing CO Poisoning (next page)

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