Ed Baker, Ph.D.
Center for Health Policy
At 20,320 feet, Alaska’s Mount Denali is the highest peak in North America, and perhaps the most treacherous. More than 100 people have died over the years on its steep, snow-covered slopes, and many more have been injured.
Behind these grim statistics are many scientific questions about the factors that may have contributed to fatalities and injuries on the mountain.
Dr. Ed Baker, director of the Center for Health Policy at Boise State University, and physicians from the Family Medicine Residency of Idaho led by Dr. Clay Roscoe, teamed up on a two-year study of climbers on Mount Denali to determine whether there was a relationship between acute mountain sickness and carbon monoxide levels in climbers’ blood.
Their study, “Carbon Monoxide Exposure on Denali: Comparing the 2004 and 2005 Climbing Seasons,” was published this month in the prestigious journal, Wilderness and Environmental Medicine.
While no definitive relationship between carbon monoxide levels and acute mountain sickness was found, the study did determine that climbers descending Mt. Denali were much more likely to be positive for carbon monoxide exposure -- a significant finding in light of the fact that the majority of climber accidents and fatalities occur on the descent portion of the expedition.
In addition, the study identified a link between increased hours of stove operation and climbers who had elevated levels of carbon monoxide.
Overall, 317 Denali climbers participated in the study led by Drs. Baker and Roscoe. The participants were first screened for acute mountain sickness, a high altitude illness that occasionally leads to life-threatening conditions such as pulmonary or cerebral edema.
Tests were then conducted to measure carbon monoxide levels in the climbers’ blood.
Climbers were also asked a number of questions, including where and how they used backpacking stoves. Stoves are a possible source of carbon monoxide exposure if they are operated in a tent or other enclosed space.
Carbon monoxide can cause dizziness and flu-like symptoms, and in larger doses, fatal damage to the heart and central nervous system.
This is the second article on the Denali study published in the journal of Wilderness and Environmental Medicine. An earlier article, written by Drs. Baker and Roscoe, was published in the journal in 2006.
To read an abstract of Dr. Baker’s current article in the journal, click here
Dr. Baker’s research project involving Denali climbers is among a number of studies he is conducting as part of Boise State’s Center for Health Policy. A new project, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, will evaluate the impact of Medicaid reforms such as programs to help Idahoans stop smoking and stay healthy.
The center recently partnered with the Family Medicine Residency of Idaho to study how to encourage more family physicians to practice in rural area. The center has also contracted with the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare to evaluate the effectiveness of insurance programs for low-income Idahoans.
The Center for Health Policy (CHP) is a research unit within the College of Health Sciences that conducts health science research and collaborates in the development of innovative health policy in Idaho. CHP is comprised of faculty and students from the College of Health Sciences and other academic units of the university. In addition, CHP also partners with governmental agencies, non-profits and the private sector in conducting health science research.
The journal of Wilderness and Environmental Medicine presents original research and clinical reports from scientists and practitioners around the globe. It publishes articles on all aspects of wilderness medicine, including high altitude and climbing, cold- and heat-related phenomena, natural environmental disasters, immersion and near-drowning, diving and barotrauma, hazardous plants/animals/insects/marine animals, animal attacks, search and rescue, ethical and legal issues, aeromedical transport, survival physiology, medicine in remote environments, travel medicine, and wilderness trauma management.