Experts from Arizona’s two poison centers are warning the community to be aware of unexpected risks that can spoil the holiday season.
“It is important to be very careful during the busy holiday season,” said Maureen Roland, RN, managing director for the Banner Poison and Drug Information Center. “With many families and friends visiting, it is easy for medications to get into the wrong hands, and everyday items in the home can become dangerous. Now is also the perfect time to check your carbon monoxide and fire alarms.”
“The winter holiday season is normally filled with joy, but every year we see thousands of cases nationwide of preventable illnesses and hospitalizations,” said Steve Dudley, PharmD, DABAT, director of the Arizona Poison and Drug Information Center. “Many calls involve batteries, carbon monoxide, food poisoning, alcohol and medications. Paying extra attention to small children, and safely storing things they shouldn’t get into, can save you a ton of heartache and worry.”
The two centers cover all 15 counties in Arizona through a national poison center hotline, 800-222-1222, and open for calls 24 hours a day, seven days a week including all holidays. The community is encouraged to call the poison center if a poisoning is suspected or just to ask questions about safety of medicines. It’s always free and confidential, and automatically connects to the poison center nearest you.
Following these tips will better your odds of enjoying a safe and healthy holiday season:
Having relatives and other guests visit, or making such visits yourself, is an important part of celebrating the season. But visiting often sets the stage for accidents that may have serious consequences. Whether you are guest or host, remember:
• Be very alert about the location of all medications in the house. Never leave prescription or over-the-counter drugs in purses, pockets, suitcases or furnishings that can be reached by children. It is recommended to dispose of any unneeded or expired medications, visit azdhs.gov/gis/rx-drop-off-locations/index.php for a list of disposal locations. Any current medicines should be stored in a locked space during the visit and clearly label each person’s medications so no mix-ups occur.
• Be equally vigilant about the location of all alcoholic beverages – in and out of the bottle. Even a small amount of alcohol can be dangerous to a young child. Appoint one person to watch the children during a gathering that includes alcohol and clean up all alcoholic beverages immediately after the guests leave.
• Watch the smoke and vaping. Cigarettes, cigars and chewing tobacco contain enough nicotine to be dangerous to children, who have been known to eat whole cigarettes. Also, liquid nicotine refills for electronic cigarettes come in many flavors tempting to kids; the liquid can be life threatening if they decide to swallow it.
Poinsettias do not contain fatal poisons, but if small children or pets chew these holiday decorations, they may experience stomach discomfort or even vomiting. More dangerous to tots and animals are mistletoe berries, holly berries and the fruit of the Jerusalem cherry—make sure these plants are not where the young and the curious can reach them.
Toys, decorations and other devices use batteries. Be very cautious that youngsters are not playing with or removing the batteries. The small button batteries are particularly easy to swallow – U.S. poison centers report about 3,500 such incidents a year. Call the poison center immediately if you suspect a child has swallowed a battery. This is a medical emergency. Parents are also warned to keep small magnets out of reach, as these too represent a serious condition if swallowed.
Make sure you have a working carbon monoxide monitor in your house before using fireplaces, kerosene or propane heaters. An annual check of your furnace is also a good idea. As the wintry weather takes hold, unnecessary, and potentially deadly, carbon monoxide poisonings increase. Do not use gas stoves, barbecues or gas grills to heat your home!
Bacteria present on raw meat, poultry or fish can contaminate surfaces. Be sure to wash your hands, kitchen surfaces, utensils and cutting boards frequently. Also, make sure to cook all foods to minimum internal temperatures and wash all produce well.
The poison and drug information centers at the University of Arizona College of Pharmacy in Tucson and at Banner – University Medical Center Phoenix provide free and confidential poison control and medication information to the public and healthcare professionals. The hotlines operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The two centers serve all of Arizona and are part of 55 centers across the nation that are accredited by American Association of Poison Control Centers. Call 800-222-1222 from any location to reach the poison center nearest you.