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Carbon monoxide poisonings after two major hurricanes--Alabama and Texas, August-October 2005.

Hurricanes Katrina and Rita struck the U.S. Gulf Coast on August 29, 2005, and September 24, 2005, respectively, causing widespread damage and leaving approximately 4 million households without electrical power. Despite public health measures to prevent carbon monoxide (CO) poisonings after major power outages, multiple CO poisonings were reported in Gulf Coast states in the wake of these hurricanes. The Alabama Department of Public Health and Texas Department of State Health Services asked CDC to assist in investigating the extent and causes of these hurricane-related CO poisonings. The investigation identified 27 incidents of CO poisoning resulting in 78 nonfatal cases and 10 deaths in hurricane-affected counties in Alabama and Texas, nearly all of which were caused by gasoline-powered generators. Most of the generators involved were placed outside but close to the home to power window air conditioners (ACs) or connect to central electric panels. Few homes had functioning CO detectors. CDC continues to recommend that generators be placed far from homes, away from window ACs, and that CO detectors be used by all households operating gasoline-powered appliances (e.g., generators and gas furnaces), with batteries replaced yearly. Although the risk for CO poisoning likely decreases as generators are placed further from the home, additional studies are needed to establish a safe distance for generator placement.

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