According to the Center for Disease Control, more than 300 children (ages 0-19) in the United States are treated in a health care facility and two children die every day due to poisoning. The experts from Arizona’s two poison centers warn young and old people to be on guard for the unexpected that can spoil the holiday season.
“It is important to be vigilant, particularly during the busy holiday season,” said Maureen Roland, RN, clinical educator at the Banner Poison and Drug Information Center serving Maricopa County. “With so many extra people visiting in celebration, it is easy for medications to get into the wrong hands or even everyday items in the home to become dangerous.”
“This busy season is prime for accidental poisonings,” says Steve Dudley, PharmD, DABAT, interim director of the Arizona Poison and Drug Information Center in Tucson, the emergency call center that serves 14 of Arizona’s 15 counties. “With shopping, visiting friends and family, and going to special events, it is easy to get distracted. That’s often when something potentially harmful happens.”
The two centers cover all 15 counties in Arizona through a national poison center hotline, (800) 222-1222, and are open for calls 24 hours a day, seven days a week, including all holidays. The community is encouraged to call the poison center if a poisoning is suspected or just to ask questions about the safety of medicines. The line is always free and confidential, and callers will be automatically connected to the nearest poison center.
Following these tips will better your odds of enjoying a safe and healthy holiday season:
Having relatives and other guests visit, or making such visits yourself, is an important part of celebrating the season. But visiting often sets the stage for accidents that may have serious consequences. Whether you are guest or host, remember:
• Be very alert about the location of all medications in the house. Never leave prescription or over-the-counter drugs in purses, pockets, suitcases or furnishings that can be reached by children. It is recommended to dispose of any unneeded or expired medications, visit https://www.azdhs.gov/gis/rx-drop-off-locations/index.php for a list of disposal locations. Any current medicines should be stored in a locked space during the visit and clearly label each person’s medications, so no mix-ups occur.
• Be equally vigilant about the location of all alcoholic beverages – in and out of the bottle. Even a small amount of alcohol can be dangerous to a young child. Appoint one person to watch children during a gathering that includes alcohol and clean up all alcoholic beverages immediately after the guests leave.
• Watch the smoke and vaping. Cigarettes, cigars, and chewing tobacco contain enough nicotine to be dangerous to children, who have been known to eat whole cigarettes. Also, liquid nicotine refills for electronic cigarettes come in many flavors tempting to kids; the liquid can be life-threatening if they swallow it.
Poinsettias do not contain fatal poisons, but if small children or pets chew these holiday decorations, they may experience stomach discomfort or even vomiting. More dangerous to toddlers and animals are mistletoe berries, holly berries and the fruit of the Jerusalem cherry—make sure these plants are not where the young and the curious can reach them.
Toys, decorations and other devices use batteries. Be very cautious that youngsters are not playing with or removing the batteries. The small button batteries are particularly easy to swallow – U.S. poison centers report about 3,500 such incidents a year. Call the poison center immediately if you suspect a child has swallowed a battery. This is a medical emergency. Parents are also warned to keep small magnets out of reach, as these too represent a serious condition if swallowed.
Make sure you have a working carbon monoxide monitor in your house before using fireplaces, kerosene or propane heaters. An annual check of your furnace is also a good idea. As the wintry weather takes hold, unnecessary, and potentially deadly, carbon monoxide poisonings increase. Do not use gas stoves, barbecues, or gas grills to heat your home.
Bacteria present on raw meat, poultry, or fish can contaminate surfaces. Be sure to wash your hands, kitchen surfaces, utensils, and cutting boards frequently. Also, make sure to cook all foods to minimum internal temperatures and wash all produce well.