According to statistics gathered by the American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC), plants are the fourth most common reason for poison center notification and account for 5 to 10 percent of all calls received.3 This high rank is a reflection of their wide availability rather than any unusually high level of innate toxicity. Children under 6 years of age account for 70 to 80 percent of all plant-related exposures, the vast majority of which (96 percent) are unintentional. The most common plant-related call received by a poison control center is for completely nontoxic plants (21 percent) and, on average, fewer than 10 percent of patients require treatment in a health care facility. Of those suffering any sequelae, minimally bothersome effects are most common and occur in 10 percent of all ingestions. Dermatitis and gastrointestinal irritation are most common and occur in approximately 20 percent of patients. Moderate effects of a more systemic nature occur in 1 percent. Severe effects associated with life-threatening or disabling injuries are extremely uncommon and occur in only 0.04 percent. Death due to plant-related exposures are rare, and occur at a rate of less than 0.001 percent.
Toddlers experience the world by first putting it into their mouth. Since 80 percent of the exposures occur among toddlers younger than age 6 years, and most within the home, prevention is paramount. All poisonous and injurious plants must be kept out the reach of toddlers and preschoolers. Homes should be purged of all potentially toxic plants just as they are for medications and cleaning supplies, and children should be specifically instructed never to eat plants or wild berries.
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