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Even Infants Are At Risk From Unsecured Medications, Report Says

It's not just toddlers who can get in trouble when they gain access to unsecured medicines, researchers say; even infants 6 months old or younger can be at risk.

While not exactly mobile at that age, infants are still at risk from dangerous medications, some of which they get to directly and some are accidentally administered by parents or caregivers, a study has found.

An incorrect medication is sometimes administered or the infant is given a dangerously mismeasured dose of the correct medication, researchers found.

For their study, they analyzed the records in the National Poison Data System on calls to poison control centers about infants 6 months or younger exposed between 2004 and 2013. In that 10-year period there were more than 270,000 exposures, almost all of them unintentional.

"Pediatricians typically do not begin poison prevention education until about 6 months of age since we typically think about the exploratory ingestion — that is when kids begin to explore their environment and get into things they are not supposed to," says study leader Dr. A. Min Kang at Banner-University Medical Center in Phoenix, Ariz. "But infants this young (under 6 months) are obviously not moving around beyond where their caregivers put them down."

Of the exposure calls analyzed for the study, around half were resulting from unintentional exposures where an exploring infant consumed a hazardous medication or substance, the researchers say. Infants can reach out to nearby plants or creams while diapers are being changed, or grab soap in the bathtub.

Nearly 38 percent of calls were prompted by what are classed as therapeutic errors, most of them involving medication given at doses different from what is directed, or given multiple times or repeated too soon.

Errors also included wrong medications given, or medications administered by an incorrect wrong route or method, the study found.

The overwhelming majority of the exposures occurred in homes, with most involving just one substance, most commonly a liquid, the researchers say.

"Many of these are creams or bath soaps that the infant may get a hold of and put in the mouth while the caregiver is changing a diaper or bathing them," Kang says.

Generally, those would not be considered concerning exposures.

However, many exposures involved medications such as acetaminophen, antibiotics, cold and cough products, ibuprofen and antihistamines, he noted.

While acetaminophen is considered appropriate in treating a fever, ibuprofen is normally not recommended as a medication for children 6 months or younger, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration advises against cough or cold preparations for infants, he says. 

The Poison Control Center is available by telephone 24 hours a day at 800-222-1222, a number that parents and caregivers should have on their phones.

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