Volume 40, Issue 3 (May 1995)
Carbon Monoxide-Related Deaths from 1984 to 1993 in Vienna, Austria
Carbon monoxide poisoning occurs frequently in industrialized countries. Between 1970 and 1978 in Vienna, the capital of Austria, carbon-monoxide-rich coal gas was replaced with natural gas. Despite this fact, people still die of unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning. The main purpose of this study was to determine the reasons for unintentional carbon monoxide-related deaths, and further to describe the epidemiology of these fatal poisonings in Vienna between 1984 and 1993. A secondary purpose was to investigate whether intentional carbon monoxide poisoning still plays a role among suicides as was the case up to the 1970s. For this purpose we analyzed carbon monoxide-related deaths in Vienna from 1984 to 1993, based on actual autopsy reports of postmortems performed at the Viennese Institute of Forensic Medicine. Deaths due to fire were excluded. The main reason for unintentional carbon monoxide-related deaths in Vienna between 1984 and 1993 was flueless gas-fueled water heating appliances, overused especially by old people during the cold period of the year. The frequency of unintentional carbon monoxide-related deaths in 1993 was almost as high as in 1984. A total of 53% of deceased persons were over age 60. Most fatal carbon monoxide poisoning occurred during the cold period of the year. Suicides decreased significantly during the investigation period. In 76% of these deaths car exhaust fumes were inhaled, especially by men. In conclusion, we recommend programs to prevent unintentional carbon monoxide-related deaths. These programs should especially target the elderly. Flueless gas boilers should not be overused. Furthermore, apartments should be aired sufficiently, even during the cold period of the year. Finally, homeowners should have gas appliances checked annually for proper functioning. It would be best to eliminate flueless gas-fueled water heaters as soon as possible.