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Most Unintentional Childhood Poisonings Occur At Home

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

Common household products – from prescription medications to oven cleaner – can be dangerous in the hands of a child. In fact, poisoning is the third leading cause of hospitalizations for injury among children ages one to four. Each year, New York City’s Poison Control Center (PCC) receives approximately 4,000 calls reporting poisonings of children under the age of 15 serious enough to require referral to, or treatment by, a health care professional. An overwhelming 75% of these calls involve children younger than five.

These are among the findings of a new report by the New York City Health Department, “Unintentional Poisoning in New York City Children,” that analyzes PCC phone traffic from 2000 through 2007. Although many incidents of poisoning are managed at home, the new report focuses on child poisonings that require treatment at a health care facility.

“From prescription drugs to oven cleaner, common household products can be deadly in a child’s hands,” said Dr. Thomas Farley, New York City Health Commissioner. “Even a relatively low dose of an otherwise harmless substance can cause serious injury. Storing household chemicals and medications where children can’t get to them, carefully following medication dose instructions, and storing all hazardous products in child-resistant containers are three ways parents can help protect their young children from potential poisoning.”

Medications are leading cause of childhood poisoning

Medications, including both prescription and non-prescription drugs, are the leading cause of poisoning in young children, accounting for nearly half of all PCC cases. Household cleaning products and pest control chemicals follow at 21%. The remaining poisoning calls received by the PCC usually involve cosmetics, vitamins and dietary supplements.

Poisonings occur more often in lower-income neighborhoods

The study found stark socioeconomic disparities in childhood poisoning risk. Children from lower-income neighborhoods are 25% more likely than others to require treatment for poisoning. The hospitalization rate is 60% higher in the City’s poorest neighborhoods. Yet, the report finds that residents in lower-income communities are 40% less likely to make information calls to the PCC, suggesting the need for greater awareness about the services that the PCC provides.

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How parents can help prevent childhood poisoning:

* Keep all medications, even non-prescription drugs and vitamins, in child-resistant containers. Never store them in purses, bags, drawers, on countertops or in areas accessible to young children.

* Always read and follow medication labels carefully, using only the recommended dose.

* Use child locks on cabinets where cleaning products, pesticides, and other chemicals are stored. Keep products in their original containers, and never near food. Read all directions and warnings, and dilute concentrated cleaners before using.

* Never refer to medications as “candy” to your children or say they taste like candy.

How health care providers can help prevent childhood poisonings:

* Inform new parents about the New York City Poison Control Center, especially in low-income neighborhoods where childhood hospitalizations from poisonings are highest.

* Call 212-POISONS to order free poison prevention brochures for your office, available in multiple languages.

* Make sure parents know that the PCC provides interpretation services in more than 150 languages.