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Paediatric poisoning exposures in schools: reports to Australia’s largest poisons centre


Objective To describe poisoning exposures occurring at school in a large sample of Australian children.

Design A population-based retrospective cohort study.

Setting Cases reported to the New South Wales Poisons Information Centre (NSWPIC), Australia’s largest poisons information centre, taking 50% of the nation’s poisoning calls.

Patients Poisoning exposures occurring in children and adolescents while at school were included, over a 4.5-year period (January 2014 to June 2018).

Main outcome measures Time trends in poisonings, demographics, exposure characteristics, substances involved, disposition.

Results There were 1751 calls relating to exposures at school made to NSWPIC. Most calls concerned accidental exposures (60.8%, n=1064), followed by deliberate self-poisonings (self-harm, 12.3%, n=216). Over a quarter of cases were hospitalised (n=468), where the call originated from hospital or patients referred to hospital by NSWPIC. Disposition varied by exposure type, and hospitalisation was highest with deliberate self-poisonings (92.6%, n=200), recreational exposures (57.1%, n=12) and other intentional exposures (32.6%, n=45). The median age was 12 (IQR 8–15 years), and 54.7% were male (n=958). The most common pharmaceutical exposures were to paracetamol (n=100), methylphenidate (n=78) and ibuprofen (n=53), with the majority being deliberate self-poisonings. Copper sulfate was responsible for 55 science class cases, 45% of which were hospitalised. Cases may be increasing, with 81.3 (±8.2) calls per quarter, 2014–2016, and 129.3 (±24.3) calls per quarter, 2017–2018.

Conclusions Poisoning exposures occurring at school are common, with disposition and substances involved varying considerably by exposure reason. The relatively high number of referrals to hospital highlights the need for investigation into preventative measures.

  • adolescent health
  • epidemiology
  • toxicology
  • therapeutics

Data availability statement

No data are available. No additional data about poisons centre calls are available due to privacy/confidentiality reasons.

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