Protect your family against poison emergencies

Make sure all medications are kept out of reach of children.

Medication mishaps, pesticide exposures, stings and snakebites are just some of the poisoning dangers that loom large at this time of year, say health-care workers, but do you know how to avoid them?

“In holiday time, being out of our normal routine, we must take extra care to ensure that medicines and chemicals are stored safely away from children. The warmer summer months also mean that more snakes, spiders and scorpions are active, and the incidence of envenomations increases markedly,” says Dr Cindy Stephen, the director of the Poisons Information Centre for the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital.

The children’s hospital and Tygerberg Hospital together saw more than 2 500 poisoning cases over December last year and January this year, and medication overdose, exposure to pesticides and hazardous household products, and bites or stings, are among the most common poison emergencies dealt with by the Poisons Information Helpline.

The 24/7 hotline is run by the two hospitals and is staffed by 14 clinicians and pharmacists who field up to 13 600 calls annually.

There are several things you can do to protect your family from a life-threatening poisoning emergency:

• Always store medications or poisonous substances safely out of reach of children.

• When travelling, do not keep medications in travel or shopping bags where they are easily accessible to curious children.

• Make sure all medications are safely stored away immediately after use.

• Be careful when visiting other people’s homes where medications and poisonous substances may not be safely locked away.

• Keep loose batteries and battery-controlled devices away from children, and secure the battery compartment with tape – swallowed batteries can cause serious harm in children.

• Hot summer days mean everyone is thirstier. Be careful that paraffin or other poisonous liquids such as methylated spirits or thinners are not decanted into juice bottles where they may look like water or juice.

• If rubbish accumulates during the holiday season, more rats and mice may be around. Only use pesticides that are bought from a shop and are properly labelled. Do not buy black granules or white liquids in unmarked packets or bottles. These should not be used in the home and can be very dangerous to humans.

• In summertime, snakes and scorpions are out and about. Always wear closed shoes when hiking and use a torch when walking outside at night. In the event of a snakebite, keep the person calm and quiet, and transport them to the closest hospital without delay.

• Swimming in the sea may result in stings from blue bottles or jellyfish. Remove any tentacles carefully, avoid rubbing the skin, and flush with sea water, not fresh water. Immersing the sting site in hot water for at least 20 minutes may help to alleviate pain, after which painkillers can be used to ease discomfort. Rubbing vinegar, meat tenderisers, methylated spirits, or any other substances onto the sting area is not advised.

• Remember to add the 24/7 Poisons Information Helpline number, 0861 555 777, to your contact list in case of poisoning emergencies.

Make sure all medications are safely stored away immediately after use.