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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, USA. MMWR Morb. Mortal. Wkly. Rep. 1966; 15(17): 145-146.


(Copyright © 1966, (in public domain), Publisher U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)






On April 1, 1966, the Ogle County Coroner in Illinois requested that the State Health Department Toxicology Laboratory in Chicago assist in an investigation of the mysterious death of a 48-year-old man and the illness of his wife and a guest. On Thursday, March 31, 1966, the man had been found dead in his home near Rochelle, Illinois; his wife and the guest were found alive but unconscious. As chemical or bacterial poisoning was suspected initially, an autopsy was carried out and material submitted for analysis along with specimens of food from the house. Analysis of the blood of the dead man,however, showed a high concentration of carbon monoxide in his blood.

Investigation by the staff of the State Health Department revealed that following the death a wake had been held on the night of April 2 in the home of the dead man. Fifteen persons stayed overnight and next morning 14 of them were treated in hospital for headache, nausea and dizziness; four of them were detained in hospital for several days. The one person attending the wake who did not become ill had slept in a room next to an open open window.

An inspection of the premises was conducted by State Health Department engineers. The one-story house has a partial basement containing a furnace fired with bottled gas; a fan in the basement circulates warm air through the underside of the house to prevent pipes from freezing. When the furnace is lighted, air is drawn down through the windows, doors and chimney of the house.

This year was the first time that all the fireplaces were sealed to prevent drafts and all windows were closed at night for sleeping. Accordingly, the air supply to the furnace was deficient and carbon monoxide accumulated in the basement. State engineers investigating the heating system found that a valve in the flue was stuck in the open position so that carbon monoxide freely circulated throughout the house.

The house had been closed for several days prior to the night of March 30; the deceased man was found dead on March 31 near the door to the furnace room; the wife and the guest were unconscious, but recovered. On the night of April 2 when all were gathered for the wake, the house which had been well aired during the day was closed up because of the cold and the thermostat on the furnace turned up high to warm the house. The furnace apparently functioned until the oxygen supply was so depleted that it went out. Thereafter, carbon monoxide gradually seeped into the house by convection and affected all except the one visitor who slept by an open window. By 6:00 a.m. next morning all but this one man were overcome.

Laboratory studies indicated that the deceased man had a 60 percent concentration of carbon monoxide in his blood. Of the four persons who were hospitalized, carbon monoxide saturation levels were determined in the blood of three patients: 40 percent in a 13-year-old boy; 30.4 percent in a 72-year-old woman; and 29,3 percent in a 79-year-old man. All four have recovered.

In order to prevent a recurrence it has been recom- mended that a duct be placed in the basement which would draw air direct to the furnace, and that an alarm system should be installed for the detection of carbon monoxide in the basement.

(Reported by Dr. Franklin D. Yoder, Director of Public Health, Dr. Norman J. Rose, Chief, Epidemiology Bureau, Dr. Frank F. Fiorese, Chief, Bureau of Toxicology, and Mr. Merlin J. Rohlinger, Chief Chemist, all of the Illinois Department of Public Health.)


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