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Poison Prevention
By Dr. Nancy Kelly

Each year in the US, there are more than 1 million children less than six years of age who are poisoned. Most poisonings are unintentional and occur at home with products commonly used in the household. Most homes contain numerous potentially toxic substances, particularly in the kitchen, bathrooms, laundry room, and garage. Items used frequently, such as cleaning products, may be stored in low cabinets for convenience, but this is dangerous as children can very quickly open containers they can reach. Some products and medicines have safety caps, but these caps are not "child-proof" and many children will find a way to get them open.

Some products are so commonly used and seem so familiar that parents may not appreciate their toxicity. Products or medications that are used or taken frequently may be stored properly, but during use may be left momentarily within a child's reach. Look-alikes also pose a problem for small children. Some medications look identical to candy. Similarly, some cleaning products may look like or be stored in containers that resemble those of food or juice. In order to prevent poisonings in the home, parents must ensure that all hazardous products are stored high off the ground and in locked cabinets.

Poisoning can occur in the home of even the best parent. If a child has been poisoned and they are unconscious, not breathing or otherwise appear to be very ill, you should call 9-1-1 immediately. However, if the child is acting normally, the best action is to call the Poison Control Center (PCC). The PCC is staffed by specially trained health care professionals who advise the caller on what to do for exposure to any product. The PCC staff will tell the caller whether or not they have an emergency and if they need to go to the hospital. Fortunately, in most cases, there is no need for a trip to the emergency room and the PCC will reassure the caller and recommend simple treatments that may be done at home. You may call the PCC toll free by dialing 1-800-222-1222 from anywhere in the US. The center is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, every day, including holidays. Translation services are available for those who do not speak English and even for those who are hearing impaired.

March 20-26, 2005 is National Poison Prevention week. This is a week of special events to raise awareness of the dangers of unintentional poisonings as well as steps that can be taken to prevent unintentional poisonings. Share this information with a friend or family member especially if that person has small children. For more information, please contact any of these websites.

National Poison Prevention Week Council www.poisonprevention.org
American Association of Poison Control Centers www.aapcc.org
American Academy of Pediatrics www.aap.org

Dr. Nancy Kelly is a physician with the Resident's Primary Care Group Clinic at Texas Children's Hospital. Texas Children's Hospital is the nation's largest pediatric hospital ranked No. 4 by both Child and U.S. News & World Report.

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