A Michigan CO poisoning was not deadly, thanks to the family’s carbon monoxide alarm. A mother and her young child were saved by a carbon monoxide alarm at 8 a.m. Wednesday morning in Portland, Mich, according to the Ionia Sentinel-Standard. The two were transported to Sparrow Ionia Hospital.

Michigan CO Poisoning

The two victims of the Michigan CO poisoning were taken to Sparrow Ionia Hospital in Ionia, Michigan. The new facility that replaced the old just opened in June 2015, making it the first new hospital in the mid-Michigan region in decades. (Sparrow Ionia Hospital)

Upon arrival of emergency personnel, the mother and child appeared groggy and disoriented. These are symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning. Disorientation would not occur before carbon monoxide levels were potentially serious. The organ that is perhaps most affected by carbon monoxide poisoning is the brain. Brain damage is likely to occur in up to 40 percent of those who have disorientation at the time of the poisoning. Even though the victims here did not die, it is possible they may have permanent brain damage from the event.

Carbon monoxide poisoning, such as the Michigan CO poisoning we see here, is not merely a matter of oxygen deprivation. In the process of poisoning, toxins are also released. The parts of the brain that are most affected by carbon monoxide poisoning are deep in the brain. That is because these parts of the brain are last on the brain’s oxygen route.

The hippocampus is particularly vulnerable to carbon monoxide poisoning. It sits deep on the brain’s oxygen route. It also releases a toxin called glutamate in oxygen poor conditions. The hippocampus is the brain’s memory center, which is why we would see people have memory issues following a carbon monoxide poisoning. These memory issues can make it difficult to function academically or professionally, or even in everyday life. For a good article on the effect of carbon monoxide on the brain, you may want to read this article called Gas Attack: Carbon Monoxide Poisoning.

Michigan CO Poisoning

The confusion one experiences in carbon monoxide poisoning, like the people in the Michigan CO poisoning, is likely due to damage in the brain. As pictured, the hippocampus sits deep in the brain, last on the brain’s oxygen route, making it more prone to damage. (The Brain Made Simple)

The symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include confusion, headaches, nausea, and vomiting. They can resemble symptoms of the flu. But it is also important to remember the permanent brain damage that can be caused by even low concentrations of the gas. The weeks following the poisoning will be the time when brain damage can worsen, and neurological symptoms begin to appear. This is called delayed neurological sequelae, or DNS, meaning neurological symptoms that occur after the poisoning.

DNS can occur two to 40 days after the poisoning. Many people are released from the hospital with no warning of the potential for a serious recurrence of neurological and behavioral problems. And it can become worse over time. The toxic effects of the poisoning persist even weeks after the poisoning. The symptoms of DNS include memory loss, confusion, seizures, urinary incontinence, loss of bowel function, disorientation, hallucinations, psychosis and balance and dizziness. DNS is related to “brain lipid peroxidation,” which has to do with the formation of nitric oxide in the blood stream. This involves free radicals stealing electrons from lipids, resulting in cell damage. The risk of DNS increases the longer the victim is unconscious, and increases in victims over the age of 30.

The Michigan carbon monoxide poisoning had levels of 105 ppm at the door and 245 ppm in the basement, likely where the source of the gas was.

When carbon monoxide enters the body, it binds to hemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen. CO binds to hemoglobin with 200 times the affinity of oxygen. When the body can’t get enough oxygen, the condition is called anoxia. As mentioned before, anoxia is not the only problem; CO is also toxic to the cells.

Carbon monoxide poisoning is a serious problem that requires explanation of the symptoms that can appear in the following weeks after the initial poisoning. Patients really should receive a discharge plan following a carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon monoxide can be deadly, and if not deadly, it can cause permanent brain damage.

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