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Children's Health

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Kids Vulnerable to Medicine Mishaps

Taking Medicine by Mistake Sends Thousands of Kids to Hospitals Each Year
WebMD Health News

Jan. 12, 2006 -- The CDC is warning parents and others who care for young children to make sure kids can't get hold of medicines and that medicines are given properly to children.

In recent years, about 53,500 children aged 4 and younger per year were treated at U.S. hospitals for unintended medication exposure, the CDC reports.

That figure is an estimate. It's based on records of more than 3,600 children treated at U.S. hospitals for unintended, nonfatal, exposure to medications from 2001-2003. Children exposed to illicit drugs or alcohol were not included in the analysis.

Most kids were 1 or 2 years old at the time of the medication mishaps, three-quarters of which happened at home.

Hazards at Home

The accidents included the swallowing of prescription drugs and over-the-counter products, including vitamins.

The figures appear in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

In many cases, children had swallowed their parents' or grandparents' pills. Some had gotten the medicines from an open container or purse. Others had been given the medicine by mistake.

A wide range of products was involved, including acetaminophen (Tylenol), antidepressants, vitamins, over-the-counter cold remedies, prescription skin creams, and drugs for allergies, asthma, and heart disease.

The CDC's report only covers kids treated at hospitals. Children who got care elsewhere or no treatment at all weren't included.

Curiosity + Access = Trouble

None of the children in the CDC's report died as a result of unintended medicine exposures.

But fatal accidents can happen and it's up to parents or other caregivers to keep kids away from medicines, the CDC says.

Children age 4 and younger "can reach items on a table, in a purse, or in a drawer, where medications are often stored," states the CDC's report, adding that young kids often put items they find into their mouths.

Child-resistant containers help but aren't totally childproof, the CDC warns.

"Parents and others responsible for supervising children should store medications securely at all times, keep them out of reach of children, and be vigilant in preventing access by children to daily-use containers such as pill boxes," the report continues.

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