Keeping kids everywhere safe and happy over the holidays.

Q: I know that carbon-monoxide poisoning is common in these winter months, but how severe is it and how can I prevent it happening to my family?

A: Carbon monoxide is odorless, colorless and tasteless, so the only way to know it is present is with a carbon-monoxide detector. Every home should have a detector, preferably one with battery backup so it can also be used when electricity is interrupted. Known as "the great pretender," early signs of carbon-monoxide poisoning mimic those of a cold or the flu.

If levels of carbon monoxide continue to rise, symptoms can worsen and lead to confusion, chest pain, heart attacks, coma and death. Always consult your pediatrician with concerns regarding your child's health.

Carbon-monoxide poisoning can be prevented. Use the following tips to keep your family safe and healthy:

*Don't use items run by fuel-powered engines indoors, as they are a significant source of carbon monoxide.

*Don't leave fuel-powered items running in the garage.

*Never heat your home with a gas range or kerosene/propane/butane space heater, as they can be dangerous when used in an emergent setting without proper maintenance.

*Don't attempt to cook indoors with a charcoal grill or camping stove, as they will produce large amounts of carbon monoxide.

If you suspect carbon-monoxide poisoning, it is important that you vacate the site of exposure immediately to get to fresh air.

-Henry Spiller is the director of the Central Ohio Poison Center at Nationwide Children's Hospital.