The Poisons Information Helpline provides tips to prevent paediatric poisonings | Western Cape Government


The Poisons Information Helpline provides tips to prevent paediatric poisonings

5 December 2023

The Poisons Information Helpline provides tips to prevent paediatric poisonings this festive season 

As the festive season approaches, there are several poisoning dangers to be aware of, particularly with regards to children.

Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital (RCWMCH) and the Tygerberg Hospital (TBH) Poisons Information Centres are home to the national Poisons Information Helpline which has been in operation since 2015.

The Poisons Information Helpline runs on a 24/7 basis, providing immediate support and guidance to help parents, caregivers and health workers recognise poisoning symptoms and how to treat emergency cases.

The Poisons Information Helpline which is run by a total of 14 clinicians and pharmacists, take up to 13,600 calls per year and over 1,100 calls per month.

Dr Cindy Stephen, Director of the Poisons Information Centre at RCWMCH shares why poisonings increase during the festive season, “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.”

Combined, RCWMCH and TBH saw over 2,500 poisoning cases in December 2022 and January 2023.

Carine Marks, Director of the Poisons Information Centre at TBH encourages parents to be aware during the holiday season, "stay vigilant this festive season! With children at higher risk, poisoning dangers loom—medication mishaps, pesticide exposures, and stings top the list.”

Medication overdose, pesticides or household product exposure, and bites or stings, are the main reasons for health workers or members of the public calling the Poisons Information Helpline.

To safeguard your family this festive season, take note of these valuable lifesaving tips:

  • Always store medications or poisonous substances safely out of reach of children.
  • Being out of one’s routine may make one more forgetful.
    • When traveling, 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!