Objectives: To study the pattern of poisoning in children admitted to the Children's Hospital between 1983 and 1988; to compare this pattern with the last study of poisoning in childhood from this institution, done in 1956; and to survey knowledge of a sample of general practitioners and pharmacists about common childhood poisonings.
Design: A retrospective review of 407 medical records of children admitted after poisoning and a postal questionnaire to 150 randomly selected pharmacists and 150 randomly selected general practitioners.
Results: Poisoning accounted for one in 200 admissions to the Children's Hospital. The pattern of poisoning has changed since 1956 when the main agents were kerosene, pesticides, aspirin and digoxin. Now they are the benzodiazepines, iron preparations, paracetamol and anticonvulsants. There were four deaths due to the ingestion of quinine, caustic soda, ferrous sulphate and an arsenic-based weed killer respectively. Five per cent of the admissions resulted in significant morbidity. Sixty-five per cent of general practitioners and 45% of pharmacists responded to the questionnaire. The high toxicity of quinine, anticonvulsants, iron preparations and digoxin was not widely appreciated by over 50% of the general practitioners while over 60% of the pharmacists were not aware of the high toxicity of anticonvulsants and paracetamol.
Conclusions: Although the pattern of childhood poisoning has changed, it remains a significant but largely preventable cause of mortality and morbidity.