America is making progress in protecting youngsters from poisoning themselves, yet this hazard still claimed nearly a hundred tots in the most recent analysis, federal officials report.

In 1986, 93 children under 5 were killed in the United States by unintentional poisonings, the federal Centers for Disease Control reports. That was down from 105 in 1980.At the same time poisonings increased among young adults and elderly persons - largely as a result of drug use, according to the agency.

"Curious minds plus busy hands equals potential poisoning" is the theme of National Poison Prevention Week, which is being marked this week.

Perhaps the most effective way to avoid poisonings is to make sure children cannot get to the substances. Keep poisonous material on high shelves or locked securely in a cupboard or closet, says the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission.

In addition, it's important to keep products in their original containers with child-resistant caps.

Sure, those caps are a nuisance for adults. But that's done on purpose, so that little hands can't operate them. Toddlers will taste or drink nearly anything that looks interesting or smells good, experts warn.

The child-resistant caps have resulted in a marked reduction in the number of children poisoned by aspirin over the years, federal statistics show.

But a problem still exists, especially in the homes of elderly grandparents, where the safety caps may not be used because there are no children around on daily basis. If youngsters are visiting, make sure medicines are out of reach.

Keeping potentially harmful products in their original containers also means that the label is available to show what the ingredients are - and there may be emergency instructions also - in case a child does ingest the item.

Harmful products should be stored away from food, the safety commission notes. Remember, the homeowner may be aware of the hazard, but a visiting child may pay little attention to the label before eating something found on a shelf with foods.

The commission also recommends disposing of out-of-date medications. What was once a helpful medicine can become a dangerous poison sitting on the shelf for months, the agency says. It urges flushing unused medicines down the toilet, rinsing out the container and then throwing it away.

The garage and storage area can contain dangerous poisons, including charcoal lighter, paint and brush cleaner and other chemicals. Make sure they are properly sealed in containers and stored out of the way of youngsters.

If poisoning does occur despite all the precautions, call a local hospital or poison control center immediately.

If the product a child has swallowed contains emergency directions, follow them. And if the child must be taken to medical help, bring the product along so the physicians can see the label and determine exactly what the child ingested.

Every home should contain a bottle of syrup of Ipecac, which will induce vomiting to help get the product out of the child promptly. Make sure the date on the bottle is current and use it only after checking with medical personnel on the phone - some poisons cause more damage if the child vomits them back up.