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FOR RELEASE: April 3, 2001
CONTACT: Dick Gunn
405/271-5601

Overlooked Poison Risks

When Angela and Keith Crary's 3-year-old son Brandon was unintentionally poisoned recently, it happened in much the same way that many childhood accidents do -- when parents or caregivers are distracted for just a few seconds.

Although Brandon took a gulp of gasoline that had been placed in a soft drink can, he has completely recovered and, in fact, is lucky to be alive. Because they have been given a second chance, Angela wants to use this opportunity to warn parents about how quickly a tragedy can occur.

Angela says the entire family was in the garage where her husband was working on a go-cart. The gas had been taken from a lawnmower and it was going to be poured into the go-cart. “The can was there and it was handy,” she said, adding, “Keith feels horrible about what happened.”

The can was actually on top of the family's freezer and out of children's reach -- until Angela moved it to place some food in the freezer. “I set the can on a nearby shelf and that's when Brandon picked it up. I didn't even know he had touched it until I heard him coughing and gasping and saw him turning red,” she said.

“Parents need to know to never put anything poisonous in something that was once OK for kids to have . . . because they have no clue. Parents should always think about the 'what-ifs',” she said. Fortunately, after an overnight stay in the hospital where milk was administered and Brandon was closely monitored for developing pneumonia, the child was sent home. “He's very lucky. I just prayed he would be as good as he was before,” said Angela. An Oklahoma child who was involved in a similar incident with gasoline a few years ago was not so lucky. The poisoning proved fatal. But gasoline is just one of many poisonous substances that parents and caregivers need to keep out of children's reach.

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 1998, nearly 70 children ages 14 were fatally poisoned. The Oklahoma Poison Control Center dealt with 29,146 human exposures last year. Of those, nearly 60 percent 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.

SAFE KIDS, a program of the Oklahoma State Department of Health, offers these additional 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.
  • 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.
  • 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. Some household plants that are most often involved with poisonings are dumbcane or dieffenbachia, philodendron and pothos or devil's ivy.

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

  • Be prepared. Always keep a bottle of Syrup of Ipecac (one per child) and a bottle of activated charcoal, 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, and 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. Most poisonings can be successfully managed at home.

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