Fresno Firefighters say on average more than 400 people die from carbon monoxide poisoning nationwide every year. And, just last week two people died right here in the Valley.
Investigators say Andre Benoit and Michal McClosky died of carbon monoxide poisoning after using a generator inside a warehouse. Another woman who inhaled the fumes was taken to Community Regional Medical Center in critical condition.
"It is not unusual with people who are not well off when their living arrangements are not good and their heat may not be good they might try alternative sources of heating, sources like a barbecue grill or some kind of open fire," said Dr. William Dominic.
Dominic heads the Leon S. Burn Center at CRMC. Since late November, doctors there have treated 13 patients for carbon monoxide poisoning. That's up from the average of 4 patients they usually treat every year.
Carbon Monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas that sticks much stronger to the hemoglobin in a person's blood than oxygen. "So it prevents oxygen from getting to your tissues basically," said Dr. Dominic.
Symptoms include: headaches, nausea and dizziness. Patients with severe poisoning are put into a machine called a hyperbaric chamber which flushes out the dangerous gas.
Both health experts and firefighters say the best protection against this silent killer is a detector. "You can't see it, you can't smell it, you can't taste it so your only real defense against carbon monoxide is a working carbon monoxide alarm," said Fresno firefighter, Koby Johns.
Doctors say people with severe carbon monoxide poisoning can have some long term side effects including memory loss.