The recent deaths of six Americans from carbon monoxide poisoning in two separate incidents highlight the dangers of staying in a rental home or hotel that may not have adequate safety measures in place.
Three guests staying in a Mexico City apartment booked through Airbnb are believed to have died of carbon monoxide poisoning last month, Bloomberg reported. And another group of American tourists in Mayat a Sandals Resort in the Bahamas.
A spokesperson for Sandals Resorts confirmed to CBS MoneyWatch that Sandals currently has carbon monoxide detectors in all rooms at its facilities.
Airbnb, for its part, is offering hosts free carbon monoxide detectors for units that don’t already have the devices installed. They usually cost between $30 and $50. Low-end digital detectors can cost around $100.
What you need to know before you travel
Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless gas produced whenever a fossil fuel is burned. Accidental poisoning can occur when household appliances and systems such as furnaces, kerosene heaters, stoves, lanterns, and generators produce fumes that people inhale.
Symptoms of CO poisoning include headache, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, weakness, chest pain and confusion, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 400 people die in the US from accidental CO poisoning each year, and another 50,000 people visit the emergency department with carbon monoxide poisoning.
The good news is that while it can be fatal, CO poisoning is completely preventable.
Each apartment or housing unit should be equipped with at least one CO detector, which should be tested every six months. For extra safety, it’s recommended to have a backup detector in case a device’s batteries die, according to the CDC.
Airbnb encourages all of its hosts who do not already have carbon monoxide detectors to install them in their rental units. However, the condominium does not require units to be equipped with detectors.
Owners of listings for units that have detectors installed can indicate this by checking a box in the “security devices” section of the listing. The lists also clearly indicate which units are not equipped with smoke or carbon monoxide alarms. This information is repeated in emails to guests prior to their stay.
Guests wary of units without CO monitors can also check to see if rental spaces have fuel-burning appliances.
Do the hotel rooms have CO detectors?
It’s wise to assume your hotel room doesn’t have a CO detector, according to advocates who urge people to pack their own battery-powered or plug-in devices when they travel, noting that regulations vary.
Dr. Andrew Moffat, a hyperbaric medicine specialist at Intermountain Healthcare in Salt Lake City, Utah, said that because he and his family were nearly poisoned by carbon monoxide, he always travels with a portable detector.
He added that even those who survive CO poisoning can suffer debilitating long-term effects, such as chronic anxiety and cognitive problems, and that many detectors don’t go off until CO levels rise enough to damage the brain.
“I bring my own carbon monoxide monitor with me wherever I live,” he told CBS MoneyWatch. “The best ones are low-end digital displays that are generally good to have in your home.”
If the alarm sounds, get out of the house immediately and call the gas company and the fire department. They can determine the source of the carbon monoxide, he said.
More transparency is needed
Kris Hauschildt, whose parents died of CO poisoning in 2013 while traveling within the US, laments the lack of more universal regulations to protect people while at home and abroad.
Hauschildt founded the Jenkins Foundation to raise awareness of safety measures and monitor CO poisoning incidents in the U.S. Between January 2011 and March 2022, 165 carbon monoxide poisoning incidents occurred in hotels, many of which stemmed from problems water heater, boiler and pool heater, according to data from the group. Eleven of the incidents involved 15 deaths.
He applauds Airbnb for being transparent about its units’ security features, noting that it’s harder to tell if a hotel room is equipped with a detector.
“There’s no way we can look it up and say let’s make sure there’s a requirement for CO detectors in this area,” he told CBS MoneyWatch. “Let’s assume there aren’t proper safeguards in place, because there’s no way to know for sure.”
Hauschildt also recommends that everyone travel with their own alarms. “This is the best way to stay safe.”