Original articles

The changing trends of childhood poisoning at a tertiary children’s hospital in South Africa

Kate Helene Balme, J Clare Roberts, Marion Glasstone, Linda Curling, Michael D Mann

Abstract


Context. Information on childhood poisoning in the developing world, including South Africa, is scarce, despite its contribution to morbidity and mortality.
Objective. We describe the profile of children with exposures and poisonings presenting to Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital (RCWMCH) in Cape Town, South Africa, from 2003 to 2008 and compare the trends of causative agents over the past two decades.
Methods. Cases were identified by review of the RCWMCH case records.
Results. Of the total incidents (N=2 872), paraffin (kerosene) was the commonest agent (n=692, 24%) with 124 poisonings including two deaths. Drugs were the most common toxin group (n=988, 34%), including 139 single-drug poisonings with 5 deaths; 4 associated with traditional medicine use. Household cleaning product incidents (n=302, 10%) resulted in 29 single product poisonings with no deaths. Pesticide incidents (n=311, 10%) included 6 deaths; 203 (65%) incidents were due to organophosphates or carbamates. The suburban distribution of the main toxin groups varied. Comparing 1987 and 2008, the number of incidents decreased from 1 116 to 447; drug and paraffin incidents decreased respectively (from 673 to 150 and from 332 to 87), household cleaning products and cosmetics increased (21 to69) and pesticide incidents increased (7 to 69).
Conclusion. Despite a decrease in the overall number of incidents over two decades at RCWMCH, paraffin and drugs remain the principal agents responsible for paediatric exposures and poisonings, with increasing incidents due to household cleaning products and pesticides. Identification of these toxin groups coming from specific suburbs allows for targeted prevention initiatives.

Authors' affiliations

Kate Helene Balme, Poisons Information Centre, Department of Paediatric Medicine, Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital and University of Cape Town, Rondebosch, Cape Town

J Clare Roberts, Poisons Information Centre, Department of Paediatric Medicine, Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital and University of Cape Town, Rondebosch, Cape Town

Marion Glasstone, Poisons Information Centre, Department of Paediatric Medicine, Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital and University of Cape Town, Rondebosch, Cape Town

Linda Curling, Poisons Information Centre, Department of Paediatric Medicine, Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital and University of Cape Town, Rondebosch, Cape Town

Michael D Mann, Poisons Information Centre, Department of Paediatric Medicine, Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital and University of Cape Town, Rondebosch, Cape Town

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Keywords

Childhood poisoning, changing trends, paraffin poisoning, kerosene poisoning, household cleaning product poisoning, drug poisoning, traditional medicines

Cite this article

South African Medical Journal 2012;102(3):142-146.

Article History

Date submitted: 2011-07-15
Date published: 2012-02-23

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