Carbon monoxide poisoning: 60 people in Belgium dead this year

Carbon monoxide poisoning: 60 people in Belgium dead this year
A fireman measuring CO levels in a building at the Boulevard Anspach. Credit: Belga/ Laurie Dieffembacq

Between January and October this year, carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning had already claimed the lives of 60 people in Belgium, twice the number recorded in previous years.

In 2019, 29 people died of CO poisoning. So far this year, the figure has already doubled, Telecommunications Minister Petra De Sutter said on Monday on the occasion of a visit to the Poison Control Centre in Brussels. She called on all people to save the number (070/245.245) on their phones.

"This number could save lives. Save it and spread the word." She added that the centre is among "the most accessible service in Europe" – in most other countries, only doctors can call an equivalent number.

Fuelled by energy crisis?

Calls to the centre have been growing lately; by the end of October, it had received 52,000 calls – 1,000 more than the same period in the previous year.

While De Sutter sees this as a positive sign that more people are aware of the centre, she feared that with the energy crisis, the number of deaths will continue to grow. The deputy general manager of the centre, Dominique Vandijck, echoed these concerns. Due to heating costs soaring, many people don't open windows and doors, he said.

"They will also try to cut costs by reducing their consumption, using cheaper fuels, skipping necessary maintenance and not replacing malfunctioning appliances or opting for unsafe second-hand appliances."

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Several cases have already been reported in Belgium and other EU countries of people using a BBQ as a heater in a kitchen. "Our fears are, unfortunately, becoming reality," the Brussels fire brigade's spokesperson Walter Derieuw said after two children and their mother were taken to hospital following CO poising.

De Sutter warned people to look out for symptoms when staying indoors. "If you are inside and feel headache, nausea and dizziness, ventilate the house and call the Poison Control Centre."

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