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Poison Look-alikes: Dangerous Mimics Lurking in Your Home

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Poison Look-alikes: Dangerous Mimics Lurking in Your Home

Mar 20, 2016

Learn about some of the things you have in your home that kids can easily mistake for things that they eat and drink everyday. Sherrie Pace from Utah Poison Control brings in some poison look-alikes to see how good we are at figuring out which is which. Listen to see how we do and and learn what steps you can take to protect your kids from making a deadly mix-up.

Episode Transcript

Interviewer: Poison lookalikes. You might have some lurking around your house. We're going to tell you how to find them next, on The Scope.

Announcer: Medical news and research from University of Utah physicians and specialists you can use for a happier and healthier life. You're listening to The Scope.

Interviewer: Sherrie Pace is a health educator with the Utah Poison Control Center. And some poisonings happen just because kids mistake one thing for another thing. They're called poison lookalikes and we're going to talk about that today and help you maybe create an ability for you to see those around your house in a way that you haven't seen them before. The first thing, though, if you ever suspect a poisoning regardless, don't go on the Internet. Don't try to figure it out yourself. Call Poison Control immediately.

Sherrie: Yes. That's absolutely right. It's important to do that as your first step. You don't want to go searching. You could find information on the Internet that could be actually harmful.

Interviewer: All right. So call Poison Control. They want to hear your call. What's the phone number?

Sherrie: It's 1-800-222-1222

Interviewer: So poison lookalikes. Well, explain what poison lookalikes are. You do this.

Sherrie : Okay. Yes. So poison lookalikes are things that look really similar. So one of them would be something that's okay to eat, like candy. And one would be something that would be possibly dangerous, like medication. So that sort of one of our examples of lookalikes

Interviewer: So when you go out to schools are health fair events like that, you take these and then it's kind of like a little quiz. So you're going to quiz me here.

Sherrie: Right. I'm going to quiz you. We take these to these events, usually pictures because we don't want anyone actually getting some of these products, but I brought you the real deal today.

Interviewer: All right. I'll keep my hands off. I'm a pretty smart guy. I've been around for a while. I'm not like a four-year-old. I think this is going to be pretty easy.

Sherrie: We'll find out.

Interviewer: Okay. Let's go ahead and see the first poison lookalike. Oh, my. You're kidding. What? All right. I'm looking at two jars here. Okay. They both have red pill-like objects in them. They look like Skittles. Both of them look like Skittles. And when I initially saw them, I couldn't tell them apart. When I started looking little closer, I see the letter "S" on the Skittles and I notice that these pills are a little bit smaller and not quite as round. A little bit more uniform. But there, again, I'm a grown adult.

Sherrie: Right. And you know what to look for. If you were a small child or even just a young child, you would have a hard time telling the difference

Interviewer: Wow. So before we do some more of these, is this a pretty common way? I mean, what do we know about lookalikes and the danger it really poses?

Sherrie: Yes, this is very common for our kids under six years old. Lookalikes are very problematic. They just can't tell the difference at their young age. They don't know the dangers. They just can't process that.

Interviewer: Yeah. So if I've had Skittles before, I come across these, which are not the Skittles?

Sherrie: They're going in the mouth.

Interviewer: By the way, what are these?

Sherrie: Those are like a flu and cold medication, over the counter medicine.

Interviewer: Oh, there's actually some letters on those too. They say, "CF." All right. What's next? Wow, that was eye-opening because initially, I had a hard time so I could only imagine a kid that doesn't have as much experience.

Sherrie: Okay. Here we go.

Interviewer: The second thing. You've got two containers of blue liquid.

Sherrie: Yes.

Interviewer: So . . .

Sherrie: You shook it.

Interviewer: I shook it, but . . .

Sherrie: You can't shake it. Actually, they're both bubbling up pretty good.

Interviewer: They are. They bubble differently. So I can only imagine that one of them is a glass cleaner.

Sherrie: Right. Yep.

Interviewer: I'm at a little bit of a struggle as to what would be blue that I would drink. Because it's not like blueberry juice. It's not that color blue.

Sherrie: No. It's a Powerade or a Gatorade type thing. Sports drink.

Interviewer: So that kind of . . . I don't know. Whatever kind of blue that is. Yeah. You can't tell the difference.

Sherrie: It looks identical. One of the problems we've had is people pouring cleaners into a different container, maybe even a glass or a cup to put a rag in or a toothbrush to do their deep cleaning, and it's sitting there on the counter. And along comes a child, even an older child, and they might take a swig.

Interviewer: Yeah. Sure. And even if it was in the container that it's supposed to be in, kids that age might not be able to read.

Sherrie: Exactly. The little ones.

Interviewer: At some point, they would be able to recognize, I suppose. So what about the smell? When I put the glass cleaner, I could definitely smell the difference. Do kids make the differentiation?

Sherrie: They really don't. And one thing I've noticed with the cleaners these days is they actually smell pretty good. They do. They have fruity smells, flowery smells so that you are more likely to use their product.

Interviewer: I don't know what this has to add, other than the fact that I'm smelling the Gatorade or the Powerade or whatever it is.

Sherrie: And does it smell?

Interviewer: No. If you were to give this to me and say, "I want you to just make a decision whether this is safe to drink or not," what would I do? I'd smell it. I'd look at it. I might go, "Well, that could be Powerade," but I smell it and I don't necessarily . . . I wouldn't be able to confidently say this isn't something that's bad for me.

Sherrie: Right. That's true. That's true.

Interviewer: Because it doesn't really have the smell I would expect of it. Wow. Poison lookalikes. Got another one, huh?

Sherrie: Yeah, I've got another one for you.

Interviewer: Oh, it's another liquid. This time, it's clear liquid. You're covering them up so I can't see. Okay.

Sherrie: Okay. So one of these is water and one is rubbing alcohol.

Interviewer: Is rubbing alcohol pretty poisonous?

Sherrie: It can be dangerous.

Interviewer: All right. So, once again, I'm not going to shake these. Last time, I shook them, but they both bubbled up. One of them does have bubbles forming on the bottom of the container and it also has a label that says what it is. So now I know.

Sherrie: You looked.

Interviewer: Well, I didn't know that there was a label on the bottom that said what.

Sherrie: I had to put the label because I can't tell the difference once I pour them in these jars.

Interviewer: Yeah. So it is the water that has some bubbles, but other than that, you can't tell the difference.

Sherrie: You can't. If you smell it, obviously, you can tell.

Interviewer: Yeah, there's no smell to the water, obviously. You know, this is kind of weird for me too. When it's in the container, I can almost before I smell it, think about what it smells like. But because it's not in its normal container, that sense isn't working in my brain.

Sherrie: That's interesting.

Interviewer: Oh, yeah.

Sherrie: You can tell that's the rubbing alcohol. Yeah.

Interviewer: Yeah. So kids would drink that, huh?

Sherrie: They would. I mean, if it's sitting out within reach and they see it sitting there, it looks like water and they'll drink it.

Interviewer: So the question on alcohol, do they normally take a swig and it's so powerful, they're like, "Ew, no more"?

Sherrie: Sometimes that happens with some of the stronger chemicals and things. But, occasionally, they do drink a little bit too much.

Interviewer: So regardless of the amount, you should call Poison Control?

Sherrie: Absolutely.

Interviewer: "Thank God that was just a little bit. I'm not worried about it."

Sherrie: Always call us because if it's not a big deal, we'll tell you that and you can have peace of mind and not have to be worrying about it.

Interviewer: All right. Do you have one more?

Sherrie: I have one more.

Interviewer: One more. This is fun. Oh.

Sherrie: Okay. One of these is a popular candy that kids like. Little candy. And the other is a fertilizer.

Interviewer: They both sound the same.

Sherrie: Yeah. They do sound the same.

Interviewer: That one makes a little bit more noise. All right. So I'm looking at two containers and the fertilizer and the candy are both white. One tends to have a little bit more of a shiny coat on it. What I believe to be the fertilizer is this one.

Sherrie: Yeah. That's a little simpler one.

Interviewer: Yeah. That was the easiest of the bunch, but for a kid, I'd imagine these are Nerds?

Sherrie: Yeah. Those are Nerds.

Interviewer: White Nerds. They look a lot like fertilizer.

Sherrie: Kids, of course, they love those little candies.

Interviewer: And go out in the garage and, "Oh, look."

Sherrie: "It's a whole bucket."

Interviewer: "That's a king-sized bag. I've never seen such a thing. I'd better get in there."

Sherrie: Exactly.

Interviewer: Poison lookalikes. So let's talk about, quickly, a couple tips people can do to go through their home to make sure they don't have more of these lurking around. What are things to look for?

Sherrie: Okay. The first thing to do would be to think about keeping things in their original container. That is number one. So don't pour things into smaller containers for ease of use. Keep them in original containers. It's not really worth it to buy those huge warehouse buckets and bottles of things that are sitting around with lots of chemicals in the home, in the garage. Just buy what you need and keep it out of reach of kids.

Interviewer: So original containers. What are some other tips? Some containers of something good and something bad look alike.

Sherrie: They do. They really do. And some of the cleaners even have pictures of fruit on the labels, which is really problematic. Certainly, keeping those out of reach of kids, especially the little ones.

Interviewer: Are there other lookalike things to look for, other than the fact they look alike?

Sherrie: Other typical lookalikes that we get calls on are things like fingernail polish and juice drinks, even when you're talking about tubes of things, like toothpaste, it also looks like frosting tubes that we use in the kitchen to frost the cookies. So kids are interested in that. So that's just a couple of ideas of other lookalikes we get calls on.

Interviewer: So think like a three-year-old would think?

Sherrie: Yes. Absolutely.

Interviewer: You can't read, you can't tell one bottle from another, would this be something you might consume if it was left out? Any other thoughts? Anything we should leave thinking about?

Sherrie: One other tip would be to keep things stored where they should go so that the cleaners should probably not be sitting on the kitchen counter. We've had poisonings where people have accidentally put a cleaner in the refrigerator or like a windshield washer fluid in the refrigerator and then it gets poured out as a drink.

Interviewer: Yeah, sure.

Sherrie: I mean, obviously, you wouldn't do that if you were thinking, but you never know. If the groceries are getting unloaded there on the countertop and things are not getting put away where they should go, there could be a problem.

Interviewer: Or even in a cabinet, maybe don't store food and chemicals in the same place. And that way, you could educate the child, to some extent, that this is not where we go. This is okay.

Sherrie: This is where the cleaners are. This is where the food is.

Interviewer: This was very eye opening. Thank you very much.

Sherrie: You're welcome. Thanks for having me today.

Interviewer: I'm glad I asked, but it was a little bit more difficult than I thought it was going to be.

Sherrie: You did great.

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