Advice from our Director of Public Education and Communications, Gail Banach, during the COVID-19 pandemic

“This is not just a snow day… we might be in for a long haul.

Times like these bring disruption to family schedules in addition to confinement. Unfortunately, we may be confined for much longer than a typical snow day we are used to on the east coast. The Upstate New York Poison Center reminds parents, grandparents and other caregivers to take the time to always put  poisonous items up, away, out of sight and reach of the children in your care.

Sounds easy to do but sometimes easier NOT to do, based on the 2.5 million calls to poison centers annually. The majority of poison center calls are about children aged 5 and under. We all know that no child in this age group is capable of self-care. As caregivers, it is our job to keep them safe. Children are curious. If they see it, they will no doubt reach for it. The majority of unintentional poisonings are accidents. They are not supposed to happen, but they DO!

A recent study of calls from selected poison centers, reported more than half of exposures (51.5%) involving prescription medications involved children accessing medications that had previously been removed from original packaging. Think about that. That means that much of the time, when kids got into a medicine, someone had removed it from the packaging ahead of time, to make it easier for the intended patient to take at a later time. This sets the stage for a poisoning and usually that involves a child. Be sure to keep all medicine in its original container until the time you use it; and keep the package up, away, out of sight and reach and preferably in a medicine lock box.

Another concern is the number of potentially poisonous chemicals we are adding to our homes to keep our families safe. These include hand sanitizers, disinfectants, alcohol, bleach and other cleaning supplies. Sounds like a treasure chest of poisons!

When asked, most people think bleach can be a poison, but many don’t know rubbing alcohol can be toxic. Unfortunately, with a make-up of 70% isopropyl alcohol, drink rubbing alcohol could be deadly. Most hand sanitizer products contain over 60% ethyl alcohol, a stronger alcohol concentration than most hard liquors. A child ingesting any more than a taste of this product could be at risk for alcohol poisoning. Ingestion of as little as an ounce or two by a small child could be fatal. Pine cleaners, commonly found in homes, are petroleum distillates. Swallowing a pine cleaner could cause chemical pneumonia in the lungs.

During these unusual times, it seems some people are combining chemicals thinking more is better to keep families safe. Sadly, some are inappropriately using strong disinfectants directly on children’s skin to prevent the virus from spreading. A disinfectant is a strong chemical! Stop before using any chemical and  read the entire label including directions and warnings. When using this type of product be sure there is enough air movement in the room. Increased fresh air will help reduce the amount of chemicals going into your lungs. Use the product safely and be sure not to use it in any other way.

Most importantly, keep your family safe! After using sanitizers, disinfectants, alcohol, bleach and other cleaners, store them safely, up and out of the reach and sight of children. Also, after use, be sure to dispose of the wipes and other applicators safely where children cannot reach them. Should any chemical get on a child’s skin, wash the area with soap and water and call the poison center at 1-800-222-1222. Let’s hope this snow day is over soon. Be safe!

In the case of a poisoning or for information purposes, call the Upstate New York Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222. We are open 24/7, 365 days a year. Each year our center manages more than 50,000 cases from healthcare providers, 911 operators, hospitals, industry, schools, and the general public in our 54-county service area.

About Upstate New York Poison Center

Housed centrally at Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, N.Y., the Upstate New York Poison Center is dedicated to reducing the number, cost and severity of poisonings within its designated 54-county service area as mandated by New York State Law. The Center is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to both health professionals and the general public at 1-800-222-1222.

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