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Experts Raise Awareness During National Poison Prevention Week

According to the managing director at the Florida Poison Center in Tampa, Dr. Alfred Aleguas, a majority of calls are made on behalf of young children.
Photo Courtesy: Florida Poison Information Center - Tampa
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

It’s a rather remarkable number: In 2017, over 130,000 calls were made to Poison Control centers in Florida. 

In honor of this year’s National Poison Prevention Week, the Florida Poison Center in Tampa is reminding the public that poisonings can happen to anyone at anytime.

According to Dr. Alfred Aleguas, the center’s managing director, a majority of calls are made on behalf of young children.

“The most common calls, our biggest population that we help, are children under the age of five,” Aleguas said. “Children at that age are doing normal, exploratory behavior. So, between 30 and 50 percent of the call we get are related to pediatric ingestions. The top ten pediatric ingestions every year really does not change much: so, it might be plants, cosmetics, over-the-counter analgesics.”

To promote awareness among young children, poison centers will hold art contests at local elementary schools.

“We give them a theme like ‘Children Act Fast,’ and we have them draw a poster, and then they get judged,” Aleguas said.

The local center is located at Tampa General Hospital, and is available 24/7 through their national toll-free number, 1-800-222-1222. The number gives access to help from registered nurses, doctors and pharmacists who have extensive training in toxicology.

Aleguas stresses the importance of calling the Poison Help number as soon as exposure occurs to ensure the best chance of aiding a possible victim.

“We never close. It’s a free call, and the best time to do it is when something happens,” Aleguas said. “We don’t want you to wait because that’s the best time to intervene if we have to. The advantage is that a lot of these things we can manage at home and onsight, but if there are any questions about any exposure, we answer questions about really anything.”

The first National Poison Prevention Week was observed in March 1962 with the goal of raising awareness of the dangers of poisonings and how to prevent them.

“Poison centers don’t do a particularly good job of promoting themselves because that’s not really our nature,” Aleguas said. “We want to be there to help people, but a lot of times the way that we can help people is if they know that we’re around.”

The Florida Poison Information Center in Tampa is one of the 55 poison centers certified by the American Association of Poison Control Centers. It also contributes to the National Poison Database System, which is the largest toxicology database in the world. It serves the poison information needs of 7 million people throughout 19 counties in central and southwest Florida.

Poison Prevention Tips:

Prescription Medications: Keep away from children, take as directed, and avoid sharing with others. Ask your doctor, pharmacist, or poison center experts about side effects and symptoms before taking over the counter medications and herbals. Discard unwanted medications.

Household Cleaners: Place them on high shelves or locked away, always read labels and follow directions before using chemicals. Do not mix cleaning products. Avoid reusing containers to prevent look alike poisonings or cross contamination.

Bites/Stings: Know the native venomous snakes of Florida. Teach children not to pick up snakes, spiders, caterpillars, or scorpions.

Plants: Know the name of your outdoor and household plants. Avoid eating wild berries and mushrooms.

Copyright 2018 WUSF Public Media - WUSF 89.7

Andrea Martin is a WUSF/USF Zimmerman School digital news reporter for spring 2018.