The distinction between true and suspected poisoning in children has not been made clear in previous work on childhood poisoning. A study of suspected poisoning in children under 15 years of age in a defined population of North East Bristol from November 1970 to July 1973 carried out by the Health Education Council Medical Research Division included 53,000 child-years at risk. The number of suspected poisonings was 3-4/1000 population aged under 15 years per year, with a higher incidence in younger age groups. Detailed investigation of the circumstances of the accidents carried out by a multidisciplinary team showed that at least 65%, and possibly as many as 78% were poisoning scares and not true poisoning. The evidence used by the casualty doctor and by the parents to diagnose poisoning was explored, and in many cases was circumstantial. Children with fathers in nonmanual occupations were over-represented. This may reflect differences in patterns of utilization behaviour rather than true differences in incidence.
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