Spinach, Peanut Butter -- What’s Next?

March 13, 2007

With National Poison Prevention Week approaching next week, the Ruth A. Lawrence Poison and Drug Information Center is sharing tips that’ll keep you and your family safer this year.

“This has been a year where it seems nothing is harmless. Peanut butter and spinach scares quickly come to mind,” said Ruth A. Lawrence, M.D., the medical director of the center, which serves the 12-county Finger Lakes area. “People are increasingly concerned about food poisoning, lead poisoning and carbon monoxide poisoning, in addition to the more common poisons that are routinely stored under kitchen sinks, medicine cabinets, or in the garage.”

And no one knows what the next culprit will be, because just about anything can be a poison; it’s just a matter of amount.

“Take water poisoning, for instance. People can even drink so much of the bottled sort that they dilute their body’s natural levels of electrolytes,” Lawrence said.

But don’t stop drinking just yet; those cases are rare. There are much more pertinent tips that cautious parents, grandparents, and babysitters should heed. The center recommends taking control of the following potential scares:

  • Beware of carbon monoxide. If you and your cohabitants seem dizzy, nauseated, sleepy, or if you all exhibit other flu-like symptoms, it may be a signal of carbon monoxide poisoning, especially if symptoms clear up when you leave your home. Having a detector installed (for about $30) and your appliances inspected regularly are both inexpensive ways to buy peace of mind.
  • Don’t over-rely on child-resistant caps. These caps are not perfectly childproof; they increase the difficulty of opening products that could be harmful to youngsters, but they do not eliminate risk completely. Keep them out of reach and take your medication out of sight (kids like to mimic adults).
  • Treat vitamins like medicine. In large quantities, they could make children ill.
  • Learn about lead poisoning. Lead poisoning can slow down neurological development and cause learning disabilities, behavioral problems, and, at high levels, even seizures, coma and death. Children are routinely screened at pediatric visits, and every county in New York State has a lead prevention centers. When you’re stripping or painting an old house (one constructed in 1978 or earlier, when the Consumer Product Safety Commission banned paint in lead), you may wish to consult experts who can recommend protective measures.
  • Watch out for look-alike products. Bright blues, pinks, and greens may confuse children. Window cleaners and engine coolants may look a lot like a favorite sports drink or juice, and antifreeze is even sweet to the taste. Never store products in soda bottles or similar food and drink containers, and teach kids to ask first before they help themselves to beverages.
  • Make old medications unpalatable before trashing them. Unused or expired medicines should be thrown in the trash, not flushed down toilets, according to the newest federal guidelines that aim to protect both ground water and the helpful bacteria that reside in sewage treatment facilities. For extra protection against accidental ingestion by kids and pets, discard medicines in impermeable, nondescript containers, mixed with coffee grounds or kitty litter.

To learn more about poison prevention, tune in for an 8:40 a.m. live interview with John Benitez, M.D., M.P.H., the center’s managing director, on the Spezzano and Sandy 98 PXY morning show Monday, March 19, or stop by a special informational booth noon to 2 p.m. Thursday, March 22 at Marketplace Mall. Poison experts and educators will be ready to help answer questions and provide you with information that could help you to save a life.

As proud sponsors, and eager to warn parents of latent dangers and outfit them with advice and protective gear, Babies R Us will also be giving away $50 worth of childproofing and safety products through a drawing at the mall event. The Red Wings mascot, Spikes, will also join the festivities. The Poison Center is hoping to encourage the public to visit by offering an additional drawing – for a chance to win one of two iPod Shuffles.

As always, in case of any poison-related emergency or concern, you can reach your local poison center for expert advice, toll-free, at 1 (800)-222-1222.  For more information, visit www.fingerlakespoison.org.

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