Background: Pesticide ingestion is a common method of self-harm in the rural developing world. In an attempt to reduce the high case fatality seen with the herbicide paraquat, a novel formulation (INTEON) has been developed containing an increased emetic concentration, a purgative, and an alginate that forms a gel under the acid conditions of the stomach, potentially slowing the absorption of paraquat and giving the emetic more time to be effective. We compared the outcome of paraquat self-poisoning with the standard formulation against the new INTEON formulation following its introduction into Sri Lanka.
Methods and findings: Clinical data were prospectively collected on 586 patients with paraquat ingestion presenting to nine large hospitals across Sri Lanka with survival to 3 mo as the primary outcome. The identity of the formulation ingested after October 2004 was confirmed by assay of blood or urine samples for a marker compound present in INTEON. The proportion of known survivors increased from 76/297 with the standard formulation to 103/289 with INTEON ingestion, and estimated 3-mo survival improved from 27.1% to 36.7% (difference 9.5%; 95% confidence interval [CI] 2.0%-17.1%; p = 0.002, log rank test). Cox proportional hazards regression analyses showed an approximately 2-fold reduction in toxicity for INTEON compared to standard formulation. A higher proportion of patients ingesting INTEON vomited within 15 min (38% with the original formulation to 55% with INTEON, p < 0.001). Median survival time increased from 2.3 d (95% CI 1.2-3.4 d) with the standard formulation to 6.9 d (95% CI 3.3-10.7 d) with INTEON ingestion (p = 0.002, log rank test); however, in patients who did not survive there was a comparatively smaller increase in median time to death from 0.9 d (interquartile range [IQR] 0.5-3.4) to 1.5 d (IQR 0.5-5.5); p = 0.02.
Conclusions: The survey has shown that INTEON technology significantly reduces the mortality of patients following paraquat ingestion and increases survival time, most likely by reducing absorption.