Your travel checklist may feel like it’s a mile long, but there’s one last thing to do before you set out on your next adventure, experts say. It’s important to find out whether your hotel takes one lifesaving safety precaution, which is not legally required in most states. A new report says hotels that neglect this particular safety measure have caused hundreds of deaths—not to mention thousands of scary incidents—over the past two decades. Read on to learn whether you should consider cancelling your reservation, and how experts say you can take your safety into your own hands by packing wisely.
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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), carbon monoxide leaks cause hundreds of deaths and thousands of poisonings each year.
A recent study in the journal Preventive Medicine Reports collected data from 1999-2018 and identified 3,405 cases of carbon monoxide poisoning which specifically took place in hotels or motels. However, the researchers note that the true number of poisonings and associated deaths are even higher than that. “The number and frequency of CO incidents in the U.S. lodging industry are underreported. Previous efforts relying on news media identified only 10 percent of the incidents reported,” the team wrote. “This indicates a greater public health risk associated with CO exposure in the U.S. lodging industry than previously realized.”
While you most likely have carbon monoxide detectors in your home, many hotels are not required to have them—even in rooms that have fireplaces or are near fuel-burning appliances, two common sources of carbon monoxide. Experts say that even rooms without these features can still be compromised by carbon monoxide leaks, since you don’t necessarily have to be close to the source of the leak to feel its effects. Only 14 states require carbon monoxide detectors in all hotel rooms, says the National Conference of State Legislatures.
If the hotel room you’ve booked doesn’t install carbon monoxide detectors in each room, this may be reason enough to cancel your reservation. However, many experts also suggest bringing your own portable carbon monoxide detector—which can be purchased for around $30—anytime you travel.
There have been several reports of repeat carbon monoxide poisonings in particular hotel rooms—some of which have proven fatal for hotel guests. The New York Times recently recounted one story that took place in Catoosa, Oklahoma, in which a single room became the site of three poisoning incidents before any action was taken. “We have previously responded to this exact room number two other times in the last two weeks,” Denus Benton, Catoosa’s fire chief, wrote to the Times.
The third poisoning victim, Pawel Markowski, 44, was found “unresponsive” in his hotel room in March. Speaking with the publication, he said: “I don’t know what these people were waiting for—someone to die?”
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Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas which is virtually undetectable without the help of a monitor. In many cases, the victim has no idea that anything is wrong before they are too disoriented from the effects of the gas to get outside to fresh air or call for help.
However, it’s still important to recognize the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, which are known to mimic many other forms of illness. These most frequently include headache, weakness, shortness of breath, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain, confusion, blurred vision, tingling of the lips. “The symptoms may come and go. They may get worse when you spend time in an affected room or building and get better when you leave or go outside,” explains the U.K.’s National Health Services (NHS).