Carbon monoxide (CO) is a deadly gas that can be present in your home without your knowledge until it strikes. Known as 'The Silent Killer,' the gas is odorless, colorless, tasteless and non-irritating.

There are more deaths from exposure to carbon monoxide than any other kind of poisoning. According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 20,000 Americans have to go to the emergency room from CO each year, with more than 400 of those resulting in death.

Winter is the peak time of the year for CO and once it's present, death can happen quickly. It comes from appliances that burn fuels such as oil, propane, wood, natural gas, coal, gasoline and kerosene. While heating equipment is the biggest source, cooking appliances, portable generators, vehicles and boats are also some of the items that emit the deadly gas.

According to the CDC, the most common symptoms of exposure may include: headache, dizziness, weakness, upset stomach, vomiting, chest pain and confusion. CO symptoms are often described as “flu-like.” If you breathe in a lot of CO it can make you pass out or kill you. People who are sleeping or drunk can die from CO poisoning before they have symptoms.

So how do you prevent it? The best way is to install a carbon monoxide detector in your home. They are about the size of a smoke alarm and not very expensive at your local hardware store. It's good to test the detector every six months or so. Place the detector in a common room in the home, where you can hear it at any time of the day.

For more ways to prevent exposure to the gas, or for more information, visit MidAmerican Energy or the Centers for Disease Control.

Poisoning can happen to anyone at any time, without warning. It's best to be prepared.

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