Children younger than five years of age who live in economically disadvantaged rural areas may be at a greater risk of medication poisoning, a new study has warned.
These areas experience high unemployment, along with lower rates of high school graduation and lower household income, researchers said.
“Understanding where there are geographic clusters of kids being exposed to medications that could hurt them gives us the opportunity to effectively intervene,” said Anthony Fabio, assistant professor at University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health.
“It also could help emergency clinicians to ask the right questions and perhaps zero in on a medication exposure when a child comes in with unexplained symptoms,” Fabio said.
The researchers analysed 26,685 Pittsburgh Poison Centre records of pharmaceutical drug exposures - typically defined as ingesting a medication - in children under 5 years old from 2006 through 2010.
They mapped the exposures based on whether there was simply a call to the centre and advice given for treatment at home, if necessary, or if the centre staff felt the exposure warranted medical evaluation and referred the child to a nearby health care facility.
By mapping the exposures in this way, the researchers found distinct “exposure” and “referral” locations, or geographic clusters, throughout western and central Pennsylvania in US.
The exposure clusters generally encompass urban areas where people are perhaps more familiar with the Pittsburgh Poison Centre’s hotline and, therefore, more likely to call.
The referral clusters are generally in more rural areas characterised by high unemployment. The researchers found that in these areas, the likelihood of a child under five being referred to a health care facility for a medication exposure is 3.2 times greater than elsewhere.
“More study is needed to determine exactly why this is, but we believe it could be related to fewer resources for child supervision - whether at home or at daycare centres in the community - increasing the likelihood of a small child finding and swallowing medication,” said Fabio.
“These results have become a real eye-opener for us,” said co-author Anthony F Pizon, associate professor at University of Pittsburgh.
“We now recognise the population of children most vulnerable to potentially harmful medication exposure. Our hope is that we can better tend to the needs of these children through Poison Centre outreach efforts and more effectively prevent childhood poisonings,” Pizon said.
The study was published in the journal Clinical Toxicology.