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Child poisoning deaths spiked in pandemic from narcotics, bleach and batteries

The pandemic saw a spike in young children accidentally poisoned by products found at home — including bleach, coin-sized batteries and narcotics, federal officials said in a report out this week. 

On average, 31 kids under the age of 5 die of poisoning each year, a figure that has fallen 80% from 1972, when 216 children died, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. 

But, after decades of falling fatality rates, the past several years have seen a reversal. 

After a record low of 17 deaths in 2018, pediatric poisoning fatalities doubled to 34 in 2019, and increased by 26% to 43 deaths in 2020, the agency said Monday, in releasing its annual report on the topic. Narcotics such as opioids accounted for nearly half of the deaths.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has led families to spend more time indoors. This increases the risk of unintentional poisonings that could result in injury or death, especially for children," the CPSC stated.

In the nine months from March to December 2020, battery-related injuries for children ages 5 to 9 jumped 62%, while serious injuries related to cleaning agents rose 72%, the agency noted.

The intensified use of disinfectant products during the pandemic also helped fuel a surge in accidental poisonings. 

Poison dangers to children come in many forms, the CPSC cautioned. "In 2020, blood pressure medications, acetaminophen, antidepressants, dietary supplements and bleach were among the top five most unintentionally ingested substances by young children," it stated. 

An estimated 61,500 children under 5 were treated in emergency rooms for unintended poisonings in 2020, and 18,100 children ingested one of the top 5 substances, the CPSC said.

CPSC safety tips for parents and caregivers: 

  • Keep chemicals, medications and cleaning supplies safely stored in a locked cabinet or box, out of the reach of children.
  • Keep medicines and household chemicals in their original, child-resistant containers.
  • Do not let children handle laundry detergent packets.
  • Store laundry detergent packets in their original containers, out of a child's sight and reach.
  • Coin-sized button batteries, used in all sorts of electronics, are dangerous if swallowed. Do not leave products with accessible button batteries within reach of children, and use tape to help secure battery compartments that do not have a screw closure.
  • Call Poison Help (800-222-1222) immediately if a child swallows or is exposed to poisonous chemicals.
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