The Montreal Children's Hospital of the MUHC Warns Parents about the Dangers of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning


Never Leave a Child in a Car with the Engine Running while Clearing the Snow from the Vehicle

The Montreal Children's Hospital of the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) warns parents about the danger of leaving their children in a car with the engine running while removing snow from the vehicle.

On Monday, two children were rushed to the Emergency Department of The Children's suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning. Tragically, one of the children could not be revived and the other was suffering from CO intoxication and was sent to Sacre Coeur Hospital for treatment in a hyperbaric chamber.

When asked what happened both parents report placing their child in the car and starting the engine to warm up the vehicle. They then proceeded to remove the heavy accumulation of snow from the car. In the time it took to clear the snow, a sufficient amount of carbon monoxide had built up in the car to claim the life of one child and seriously affect the second child. Both children were approximately 18-mouths old.

"Carbon monoxide poisoning can occur very quickly in children," says Dr. Dominic Chalut, director of The Children's Emergency Department. "The Children's wants to prevent this type of tragedy from happening again. We urge parents to leave their children in the house until they are ready to drive away."

Dr. Chalut also warns parents about leaving their cars idling in a closed garage.

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless, and tasteless gas. This invisible, poisonous gas is produced from burning fuels such as natural gas, gasoline, fuel oil, or wood (for example, in indoor heating systems, car engines, cooking appliances, or fires).

Carbon monoxide poisoning develops when you inhale enough carbon monoxide for it to begin to replace the oxygen that is carried in the blood. This is because carbon monoxide binds to red blood cells approximately 250 times more strongly than oxygen does. As the oxygen in the blood is replaced by carbon monoxide, the body's organs and tissues, which depend on oxygen, cannot function properly.

What causes carbon monoxide poisoning?

Carbon monoxide poisoning is caused by the inhalation of carbon monoxide. Dangerous levels of carbon monoxide can come from various sources, including heating systems, car engines, jet ski and boat motors, cooking appliances, or fires. If fuel-burning appliances are installed and used properly, very little carbon monoxide is produced. If the appliances are not maintained and used properly, dangerous levels of carbon monoxide can build up in enclosed areas, such as inside houses and buildings. The exhaust from cars can reach dangerous levels in an enclosed area such as a garage—even when the garage door is open—and can leak back into the house. Fatal concentrations can also build up in semi-enclosed or even open areas, including swim areas behind boats. What are the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning?

Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning may include headaches, dizziness, or nausea. If the exposure continues, you may lose consciousness and even die. Exposure to low levels of carbon monoxide over a prolonged period of time can cause severe heart and brain damage.

How is carbon monoxide poisoning diagnosed?

A blood test is necessary to diagnose carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon monoxide poisoning can be hard to identify; the symptoms of headache, dizziness, and nausea can also be caused by several other illnesses. If you think you have been exposed to carbon monoxide, your health professional can test you for carbon monoxide poisoning.

How is carbon monoxide poisoning treated?

The current, most effective treatment for carbon monoxide poisoning is oxygen therapy. Oxygen therapy replaces the carbon monoxide in the blood with oxygen. There are two kinds of oxygen therapy: 100% oxygen therapy, in which oxygen is delivered through a tight-fitting mask; and hyperbaric oxygen therapy, in which oxygen is delivered in a chamber under pressure to remove the carbon monoxide faster.

Who is affected by carbon monoxide poisoning?

Incidents of carbon monoxide poisoning occur all over the world. Carbon monoxide poisoning is the leading cause of injury and death due to poisoning worldwide.Engines left running in enclosed spaces, such as garages, is the most common cause of unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning deaths in northern hemisphere countries.

People who live in older dwellings that share chimneys are particularly susceptible to carbon monoxide poisoning. The chimneys can become blocked and vent fumes into several homes. Modern housing also can trap carbon monoxide fumes inside living areas due to tight insulation of the home. People who drive older cars, especially those without catalytic converters, or who drive cars with faulty exhaust systems have an increased risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.

People who work indoors with liquefied petroleum gas-powered forklifts are more likely to be exposed to potentially dangerous levels of carbon monoxide. The Montreal Children's Hospital is the pediatric teaching hospital of the McGill University Health Centre. This institution is a leader in the care and treatment of sick infants, children, and adolescents from across Quebec. The Montreal Children's Hospital provides a high level and broad scope of health care services, and provides ultra specialized care in five areas of expertise: cardiology and cardiac surgery; neurology, traumatology and neuro surgery; genetic research; musculoskeletal conditions, including orthopedics and rheumatology; psychiatry and child development. Fully bilingual and multicultural, the institution respectfully serves an increasingly diverse community in more than 50 languages.

Contact Information

Lisa Dutton
MUHC Public Relations and Communications
lisa.dutton [at]
Office Phone: