Children most at risk of being poisoned accidentally
With more than 75 per cent of the over 200 persons accidentally poisoned in the last two years being under five years old, parents are being reminded to keep harmful chemicals outside of food containers and to store them out of the reach of children.
According to medical epidemiologist Dr Iyanna Wellington, household bleach and pharmaceuticals have been the most common agents named in cases of accidental poisoning in the last six years.
"Other agents have included rat poison, silica gel, pesticides, and hair relaxer," she said.
"Accidental poisoning occurs when a human ingests a harmful substance without intending to do so. Accidental poisoning is a notifiable health event in Jamaica and must be reported to the parish health department or the Surveillance Unit at the Ministry of Health Head Office within 24 hours of suspicion."
There were 116 cases of accidental poisoning in Jamaica from January to the second week in November in 2016, and there have been 101 confirmed cases for the corresponding period in 2017. There were three fatalities in 2016 and one confirmed death in 2017.
"The 2016 deaths occurred in a single household and were due to carbon monoxide poisoning; two of the persons who died were children. In 2017, death occurred in an adult who ingested gramoxone," she said.
The epidemiologist noted that most of the children who ingested poisonous substances were less than two years old.
"A qualitative review of the data collected over the years revealed that in many cases of accidental poisoning in both children and adults, the agents ingested were stored in locations accessible to children or in containers used for food," she said.
The symptoms associated with accidental poisoning differ, and so does the care. Both are dependent on the agent ingested.
"If someone accidentally ingests bleach, responders should not try to get the person to vomit. The same goes for kerosene and some other chemicals that may, upon vomiting, get inhaled into the airways and cause inflammation and other problems," Wellington noted.
PREVENTION IS KEY
To prevent accidental poisoning, the following should be adhered to:
- Store chemicals out of reach (and view) of children. Children will climb and investigate interesting-looking bottles and containers.
- Keep harmful chemicals out of food containers. This means not pouring bulk-bought products into soda bottles and other containers previously used for food.
- Label containers. If bulk-bought chemicals must be stored in a smaller container, it is important that the smaller container be properly labelled.
- Wear protective gear. In order to prevent absorption through the skin or inhalation of harmful substances, users must wear appropriate personal protective equipment such as masks, goggles and other clothing.
In the event that accidental ingestion of a harmful substance is suspected to have occurred, it is best to contact the nearest hospital emergency room or a poison information centre such as the Caribbean Poison Information Network (CARPIN) for guidance. The toll-free number for CARPIN is 1-888-764-7667 (1-888-POISONS) and the Centre operates Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
CARPIN is based at the University of Technology and is managed by a multidisciplinary team consisting of persons from the Ministry of Health, College of Health Science (University of Technology), University Hospital of the West Indies, the National Council on Drug Abuse, and the Pesticide Control Authority. For cases that occur outside of the CARPIN hours, persons can call the University Hospital of the West Indies emergency room at (876) 927-1420.