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Children with relatively low levels of carbon monoxide, or CO, exposure were almost never infectious, and had much lower risk of developing rhabdomyolysis, the painful breakdown of muscle tissue.
Researchers report in the journal Pediatrics that summer camp health care workers at 1,500 American children’s camps exposed to the potentially harmful gas on a consistent basis over a three-year period were 63 percent less likely to contract lung disease.
Just 86 children of the 6,500 who met the criteria for CO at camp developed lung disease, compared to the more than 1,000 similar children who didn’t. The most common lung disease among campers with no apparent exposure was rhabdomyolysis, which can lead to a weakened heart, according to the study. The study didn’t look at how the patients with the lung disease might have been different than those not exposed.
Less commonly, the researchers found that campers who were exposed to a high level of CO were 8 times more likely to develop persistent coughs. The data suggest that asthma, other lung diseases and fluid retention in the lungs are serious health problems, but the authors said only speculation exists as to why campers may develop respiratory symptoms after exposure to low levels of CO, or if they are healthy.
More than 400 children participated in the study. More than 70 percent of the children who spent time at camp also lived at home. Among the study’s limitations: Researchers didn’t know the exposures at camp were actually 1 million hours, because not all campers checked in after camp ended. The children who had established a baseline of exposure spent a total of about 12,000 hours at camp over the three years.
There’s been no indication that campers who spend time at camps with low CO levels are exposed to significantly higher levels of CO.
A complicated culprit has long been suspected in the risk of developing COPD and rhabdomyolysis in campers and other campers, and experts suspect it’s the campers’ exposure to summer night air.
Unlike other kinds of chemicals, which dissolve and leave behind no residue when they are released, CO can linger in the environment and be easily inhaled as sunlight fades.