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Info for You & Your Family

An Introduction to the California Poison Control System

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What can be poisonous to your child?

Medicines (both prescription and non-prescription), vitamins, iron, cleaning, car, and gardening products, insecticides, cosmetics, batteries, arts and crafts materials, and plants.

a polyptych showing children in various poison exposure settings in a typical home

What does “poisonous” mean?

One man’s medicine is another man’s poison.

Many callers to the Poison Center are afraid that if a substance is toxic or poisonous, it is deadly. This is not necessarily true. To Poison Center staff, a substance is toxic or poisonous if it can cause any negative symptom, even if only a mild rash.

There are degrees of toxicity, depending on the substance, the amount, the length of time of the exposure and type of the exposure (on the skin versus ingestion). Also, the age, weight, and health status of the patient need to be taken into account. All these factors determine the toxicity and the treatment needed.

For example, the heart medicine taken daily by grandmother is essential for her good health. But the same dose of medicine taken by her 13-month grand-child is dangerously high and is considered toxic. On the other hand, the one to two pellets of rat poison that may well be dangerous to a mouse will not be harmful to a three-year-old child because of the weight difference. Still, a large amount of anything is likely to be unsafe. In case of any exposure, call the Poison Center.

Every poisoning exposure is unique. Reactions may range from mild to moderate to severe. A minor exposure may not produce any symptoms. Even if some symptoms develop, they may not be considered serious enough to require emergency treatment. It is always best to have every poison exposure evaluated by the Poison Center staff. They can provide reassurance and peace of mind. In case of any exposure, no matter how minor it may seem, always call the Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222 .

It will never be a waste of time.

child sitting with an open pill bottle with pills scattered on the floor

Who gets poisoned?

Mostly children under five years. In the United States two million per year will swallow a poison.

Why children?

Young children are curious. They will eat or drink almost anything - even if it doesn't taste good.

About calling the Poison Center

Why do you ask all those questions?

Some callers might feel that asking all these questions is wasting crucial time. But only a careful evaluation of all the information will allow thc Poison Center staff to determine if a case presents a serious risk. No well-trained staff member will ever ask needless questions.

Once the inforniation is gathered, the Poison Center staff member will calculate the amount of the exposure compared to body weight or look up the substance in the computer for more information. This information will determine the toxicity of the case. Using that information, the staff person will make treatment recommendations. Each full-time staff person handles about 5,000 poisoning cases each year. They know, very quickly, if your case involves only a mild exposure or if it is potentially life threatening.

Why are all the calls recorded?

Like 9-1-1 calls, all calls to the Poison Center are recorded. Poison Center calls, like medical records, are kept confidential. Information regarding the call is entered into a computer database. This provides general information for national statistics regarding age and sex of the victim, name of product, treatment and the zip code where the call originated. Callbacks are made to determine the outcome. Outcome information is provided to agencies that regulate consumer safety issues.

No personal or confidential patient information, such as your name or phone number, is ever provided to a national database.

What if I don’t want to give my name and phone number?

Helping callers is the main concern of the Poison Center staff. There are no “bad parent” or “frequent caller” lists. Unless you tell the Poison Center staff that you have called before, they won’t know, as there are about 300,000 poison calls per year to the California Poison Control System. However, there are callers who refuse to provide basic information such as names and phone numbers to the Poison Center staff. The Poison Center staff will suggest, to those callers, that they contact their physician for assistance. For legal reasons, medical or poison information advice cannot be provided to anonymous callers.