Deaths by poisoning have decreased dramatically over the past 15 years, especially among children under the age of 5. In 1989, 40 children between ages 0 and 4 died from poisioning. Aspirin poisoning, once the single leading cause of childhood poisoning deaths, has almost disappeared today. These declines are due in part to the Poison Prevention Packaging Act of 1970, which requires childproof closures on many drugs, medicines and household substances. Other factors contributing to this decline include dose limits per package and improved emergency management of poisoning, especially through regional poison control centers.

Despite these changes, nonfatal poisoning remains a major cause of hospital admissions and emergency room care. For every poisoning death among children under the age of 5, 80,000 to 90,000 nonfatal cases are seen in emergency rooms, and about 20,000 children are hospitalized.Studies have shown that poisonings occur 10 times more often among children under the age of 5 than among elementary schoolchildren. Children at greatest risk are 1- and 2-year-olds, who are 17 times more likely to be hospitalized for poisoning than any other age group under 20 years. It has been noted that environments away from home, especially grandparents' homes, are common sites of childhood poisoning.

First aid

You can identify swallowed-poison cases by chemical burns, odors or stains around the mouth. The person may also be suffering from nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain or diarrhea.

To treat a poison victim:

- Identify the poison by looking for empty containers.

- Call the poison control center and follow their instructions. Telephone numbers are found on the inside front cover of the directory.

- Arrange for immediate transportation to a hospital.

Induce vomiting only if a medical source (e.g., Poison Control Center) tells you. This can be done if you are far from a medical facility, if the poisoning has happened no more than one hour before your arrival, and if the person is totally alert.

To induce vomiting, give syrup of ipecac. This drug can be obtained from a pharmacy without a prescription. Two tablespoons are given to an adult and one teaspoon to a child. This is followed by as many glasses of warm water as the victim can drink. Vomiting usually happens within 15 to 20 minutes later.