May 27, 2009

CO poisoning linked to video games

Houston researchers say many of the children treated for carbon monoxide poisoning after Hurricane Ike were playing video games powered by generators.

Two million homes in Texas were without power, following Hurricane Ike and while some scrambled to preserve food using gasoline-powered generators, others used them to run televisions and video game systems.

Dr. Caroline Fife at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston said of the 37 individuals treated for carbon monoxide poisoning after the hurricane, 20 were under the age of 20. In nine of those cases, researchers were able to speak with families to determine why a generator was being used -- of 75 percent of those cases, the generator was used to run video games.

Home generators -- used indoors or in an attached garage -- give off odorless carbon monoxide that can cause symptoms such as headaches and nausea. If exposed for a longer length of time, death can occur.

Discovering that generators are so frequently used to power entertainment devices for children suggests that school programs should be considered in states at risk for hurricane-related power outages, Fife said in a statement.

All of the patients were treated at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center, the only hospital in Houston with a hyperbaric oxygen treatment center needed to treat patients with carbon monoxide poisoning.

The findings are published in the June issue of the Journal of Pediatrics.