Objective: To describe the epidemiology of recent unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning deaths in the United States.
Design: Descriptive analysis of carbon monoxide-related deaths in the United States from 1979 through 1988, based on death certificate reports compiled by the National Center for Health Statistics.
Population studied: All US deaths, 1979 through 1988.
Results: We reviewed data from 56,133 death certificates that contained codes implicating carbon monoxide as a contributing cause of death. Of these, 25,889 were suicides, 210 were homicides, 15,523 were associated with severe burns or house fires, and 11,547 were classified as unintentional. The number of unintentional deaths decreased steadily by about 63 deaths per year, from 1513 in 1979 to 878 in 1988. The highest death rates occurred in winter and among males, blacks, the elderly, and residents of northern states. Motor vehicle exhaust gas caused 6552 (57%) of the unintentional deaths; 5432 (83%) of these were associated with stationary automobiles.
Conclusions: The rate of unintentional death from carbon monoxide poisoning is decreasing. This may be attributable to improvements in automobile pollution control systems and improved safety of cooking and heating appliances. Prevention programs should target young drivers, males, and the elderly.