Death from CO in Fire and Non-Fire Situations:

Role of Alcohol (Ethanol, Ethyl Alcohol, ETOH) in Death from CO:

Alcohol intoxication is an important predisposing factor in fire deaths. It may do this by:

  • Increasing the liklihood of fire
  • Impairing the ability of the victim to escape
  • Depressing the Central Nervous System, not unlike CO (ie. narcotic action)

    On the other hand, some animal and human data suggest that alcohol may even be protective during CO poisoning. It might do this by depressing oxidative metabolism of the central nervous system, thus lessening the need for oxygen at a time when oxygen delivery is severely compromised.

    Lack of relationship between carboxyhemoglobin (ie. COHb, HbCO) saturation and blood ethanol level in fire victims at autopsy. The data suggest no significant additive effect of ETOH, even at very high ETOH level. The vertical line indicates the threshold for ethanol intoxication.

    From: Anderson et al., Fire deaths in Glasgow area: II. The role of carbon monoxide. Med. Sci. Law, 21, 288-294, 1981.

    Lack of significant difference for carboxyhemoglobin of CO victims with and without alcohol in their blood. The data suggest that "lethal COHb saturation is independent of blood ETOH concentration".

    Blood ETOH Conc. (mg/ml) % of Victims COHb Levels (Median % & Range)
    0 54 52.5 (0 - 85)
    0.1 - 0.9 6 50.0 (0 - 80)
    1.0 - 1.9 19 60.0 (10 - 90)
    2.0 - 2.9 15 50.0 (0 - 80)
    greater than 3 6 50.0 (18 - 80)

    From: Rogde & Olving, Characteristics of fire victims in different sorts of fires. For. Sci. Internatl., 77, 93-99, 1996.

    Thanks to: "Factors affecting blood carboxyhaemoglobin levels in individuals found dead at or dying after house fires", Graduate Thesis, by S. Kolar, 1999.

    ...... Last changed 01/02/00

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