With low temperatures dipping into the 20s this week, most Iowans are switching on their furnaces to stave off the chill. Dr. Azeem Ahmed, a professor of emergency medicine at the University of Iowa, says he expects hospitals statewide will soon start seeing an uptick in the number of carbon monoxide poisoning cases — unless precautions are taken.

Ahmed says all Iowans should have their furnaces checked out by a heating and air conditioning professional. "One of the major causes of inadvertent C-O poisoning is from faulty furnaces and other devices," he says, adding, "If you’re using other devices, other than heating systems like kerosene heaters, those should be used in a well-ventilated area."

Ahmed says people who use their fireplaces, candles or even their stoves and ovens for heat are just asking for trouble. He says there are strict rules you should follow if you’re keeping warm with a space heater.

Ahmed says if those devices are used in poorly-ventilated areas, which is often the case during the winter when the windows are closed, those folks are at high risk for carbon monoxide poisoning.

Carbon monoxide is the leading cause of poisoning deaths each year, with more than 500 unintentional and 1,700 suicide deaths in the U.S. While most folks are very familiar with smoke detectors, he says it’s also a wise investment to buy at least one carbon monoxide detector for your home.

Ahmed says carbon monoxide detectors are very important because, unlike other gases and smoke, C-O is odorless, tasteless and colorless and it’s non-irritating. "People may not realize that they’re being poisoned by carbon monoxide unless they’re alerted by a detector," he says.

For more information, the Sioux City-based Iowa Poison Control Center hotline is 800-222-1222, or visit " www.iowapoison.org ".