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FOR RELEASE: March 9, 2000
CONTACT: Dick Gunn
405/271-5601

Overlooked Poison Risks

Childhood poisoning is a hazard often overlooked by parents and caregivers. Even innocent-looking items like household plants and vitamin supplements can poison a child in less than a minute.

Annually, more than 1.1 million unintentional poisonings among children ages 5 and under are reported to U.S. poison control centers. In 1997, more than 80 children age 14 and under were fatally poisoned. The Oklahoma Poison Control Center dealt with 34,025 human exposures last year. Of those, more than half involved children under age 5.

"Children ages 5 and under are particularly vulnerable to poisoning due to their curiosity and natural desire to put everything into their mouths," said Martha Collar, coordinator of the Oklahoma SAFE KIDS Coalition. "Many poisonings can be prevented if parents simply lock poisonous products out of children's reach."

In observance of National Poison Prevention Week, March 19-25, SAFE KIDS, a program of the Oklahoma State Department of Health, offers these poison prevention tips:

  • Keep poisonous products out of reach. Storing potentially harmful products out of sight and out of reach -- in cabinets with safety locks -- is one of the best ways to prevent poisonings. When "poison-proofing" their home, adults should get down on the floor to view their home from a child's perspective. From this vantage point, they will be better able to spot hazardous products that children can easily see and reach.
  • Stay alert while using poisonous products. Many poisonings occur while adults are using a household product like a bathroom cleanser or bleach. Know where children are while using these products. Never leave a child alone in a room with a poisonous product. It only takes seconds for a poisoning to occur.
  • Never refer to medicine as candy. Medicine is not candy and to refer to it as such could create the perception that it is harmless. Since children tend to mimic adults, avoid taking medications in front of them. Vitamins, particularly those containing iron, can be poisonous so keep them out of your child's reach at all times and carefully monitor their use.
  • Throw away old medicines and other potential poisons. Discard old medicines on a regular basis by flushing them down the toilet. Know which household products are poisonous. Something as common as mouthwash can be poisonous if a large amount is swallowed. Check your garage, basement and other common storage areas for cleaning and work supplies that you do not use.
  • Beware of certain cosmetics and personal products. In addition to medicines, children may be tempted to taste cosmetics and personal care products. Store items such as after-shave, cologne, perfume, hair spray, shampoo, artificial fingernail remover and fingernail polish remover out of reach.
  • Keep products in original containers. Never put potentially poisonous products in something other than their original container where they could be mistaken for something harmless.
  • Buy child-resistant packaging. Child-resistant caps do not guarantee that children cannot open a container, but they do deter children and increase the likelihood that you will be able to stop them before they swallow the poison.
  • Keep plants out of reach. Learn which plants in and around your house are poisonous, and either remove them or make them inaccessible to children. Teach children never to put leaves, stems, bark, seeds, nuts or berries from any plant into their mouths. Some household plants that are most often involved with poisonings are dumbcane or dieffenbachia, philodendron and pothos or devil's ivy.
  • Teach grandparents and relatives to take precautions. Grandparents' medicines can be very dangerous for children. Ask grandparents to take appropriate precautions if a visit from grandchildren is expected.

If a poisoning does occur, here are some guidelines to follow:

  • Be prepared. Always keep a bottle of syrup of Ipecac on hand (one per child) to be used only on advice of a poison control center, emergency medical service or physician. Keep the phone numbers of the local poison control center, physician and emergency medical service next to each telephone.
  • Call for help. If you suspect a child has swallowed something, check his or her mouth. Remove any remaining poison from his or her mouth, then call the Oklahoma Poison Control Center, 271-5454 or 1-800-POISON-1.

When calling, bring the container of the ingested substance to the phone with you. Call even if you are not sure that the child was poisoned. The poison center staff or emergency personnel will determine if you need to do anything for the child. Do not give the child anything to treat the poison until you have consulted a poison control center or a health care professional. Vomiting can often aggravate the poisoning and cause even greater long-term damage.

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