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Don’t mistake carbon monoxide poisoning for covid-19

Symptoms of the two can be similar. Here’s how to know the difference

With coronavirus on everyone’s minds at the moment, most of us are being hyper-vigilant about any changes in our health and how we feel. In particular, we’re looking for fever, coughing, difficulty breathing and other flu-like symptoms. This is important because there are a number of things to do in the event that we may have the virus, such as self-isolation. Most of us are able to fight the virus off successfully with some bed rest and, as there’s no testing being done on those managing the illness at home, we may never even know whether we’ve actually had it at all. This is because the symptoms of covid-19 can be very similar to other illnesses such as common flu or a cold. Unfortunately, they also share some similarities to something else that cannot be managed by bed rest (in fact, that's the worst thing to do), and that is carbon monoxide poisoning.

Also known as CO, carbon monoxide poisoning can happen when fuel is not burned properly in gas appliances such as boilers, fires and cookers. It is odourless, tasteless and colourless and is known as the ‘silent killer’. Symptoms include fatigue, shortness of breath, headache and nausea. Many of these are shared with coronavirus.

CO poisoning is obviously not a new health scare but the coronavirus pandemic does bring it into new focus. Firstly, there are the similar symptoms but also lockdown conditions can have an impact. One of the indicators of having CO poisoning can be that you feel better when away from the home, and therefore not in the vicinity of the faulty appliance. Now that most of us are confined to our homes, we wouldn’t get the opportunity to notice this plus, being in all the time, there is no escape from it.

We’re also much less likely to seek medical attention at the moment, assuming that the best course of action is to get bed rest and stay away from GP surgeries and hospitals. This could waste precious time needed to treat CO poisoning, which can kill very quickly.

How can you know the difference between CO poisoning and covid-19?

The best thing that you can do to prevent the risk of mistaking one for the other is to make sure you have a CO monitor in your home. This will alert you to any issues as soon as a leak is detected and if your monitor is showing there is no leak, you can eliminate CO poisoning as a possibility. Ideally you should have one near every gas appliance. They are inexpensive and can save your life. If you don’t have one, we would strongly recommend that you get one. They can be easily bought online so no need to leave the home to get one.

If you do have one, you need to test it regularly to make sure it’s still working and replace batteries as soon as the monitor informs you that they’re low.

If you already have symptoms, consider, does anyone else in the household have them? A CO leak is likely to affect everyone but unlike covid-19, CO poisoning affects children more. Also, do you feel any better when in the garden, away from the house (and therefore, the appliance)? It’s not scientific by any means but if the answer is yes, it is a possible indication that it could be CO poisoning. If you are worried, ring 111 and ask for their advice.

Things you can do to prevent CO poisoning

The best way to prevent the risk of a CO leak is look after your gas appliances well. Primarily this comes down to annual servicing as well as making sure the area is well ventilated and the appliances were installed by a Gas Safe registered engineer. See more about this here.

Now offering boiler servicing again

In the initial period of lockdown we made the decision to pause all but emergency plumbing and heating work as we created the right working practices and managed our reduced capacity due to staff in self-isolation. We have now made the decision to resume boiler servicing, primarily because it is such an important aspect of boiler and gas appliance safety. This is available direct to private customers as well as through insurance policies. Our usual coronavirus precautions apply (see here).

We are not able to attend any households where people are experiencing symptoms and we do ask that you only book boiler services when they’re actually due (or overdue). It may be tempting to get jobs like this done early while you’re off work but sticking to your service schedule means we can accommodate everyone who wants it.

You can book in for a service, or an emergency repair, by calling 0333 577 0151 or completing the form here.

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