Five hundred children die a year in the United States from accidental poisoning. This is a minimum statement, because many die without poisoning being suspected or reported when it has actually occurred.
And this figure does not include the many casesaccurately diagnosed or not in which the outcome was not fatal.
All of these deaths were due to the same thingallowing household preparations containing poisonous ingredients to be left where the child could put some into its mouth. These preparations range from cathartic pills to fireworks.
The commonest accidental poisoning in children is still caused by strychnine, found in cathartic pills with bright sugar-coated coverings. For some reason, obscure to any thoughtful physician today, someone long ago conceived the idea that strychnine and belladonna, put into a pill with a vegetable cathartic such as aloin, would strengthen, or enforce, its action (the belladonna was put in to ease cramps, which it does not do). These pills are generally called A., B. & S. (aloin, belladonna and strychnine) pills, and are official in the National Formulary, the standard work on pharmaceutical formulae. They contain 1/125 grain of strychnine, but if a child swallows a hundred of them, which often happens, because they are small and the taste sweet, there will be nearly a grain of strychnine in its body.
Some pills of this sort contain much more. I have already related that I was present in a household this summer when the two little pet dogs went into convulsions caused by the administration of two cathartic pills with 1/60 grain of strychnine in each. The dose of 1/30 grain is the ordinary dose for an adult human, but in these little bodies it caused convulsions which lasted four or five hours. Both of the pets recovered.
To be actually on the ground at the working out of one of these accidents was an illuminating experience for me, and I thought of the horrors which must attend a similar occurrence when a little child was the victim.
The antidote to strychnine is sodium amytal, and if one insists on having strychnine pills around, it is well to have some of the antidote also.
Other poisons that children get hold of are arsenic and thallium in insect and roach powders; pyrethrum, naphthalene and phenol in bed bug powders; cyanide, arsenic, phosphorus and thallium in rat poison; and phosphorus, mercury and arsenic in fireworks.
A strange form of poisoning in children results from swallowing gasoline or kerosene.
It happens when the gasoline is left in a glass within reach. The children evidently think it is water. In swallowing it they usually aspirate some into the lungs, causing pneumonia.
The answer is: Don’t. Don’t leave poisonous products around where children can get at them.