How to use bug spray safely

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Summer is here and many of us in northern New England will be spending more time outside. It’s a busy time for everyone, including the Northern New England Poison Center. During the warmer months, the poison center manages many calls about pesticides, such as insect repellants, often  referred to as bug spray.

Insect repellants with DEET can be very effective at preventing bites from mosquitos, ticks and other pests. This can this help you avoid pain and itchiness from bites, and also help prevent diseases such as Lyme. Depending on the amount of DEET in the product, an insect repellent will keep ticks away for two to ten hours, and mosquitoes for two to twelve hours.

Use insect repellants safely by following these steps: 

  • Read the directions on the product label each time you use it, and follow the directions carefully.
  • Do not apply insect repellant over cuts, wounds, or irritated skin.
  • Do not apply it near your eyes or mouth.
  • Wash the product off with soap and water once you are indoors, and wash treated clothing before you wear it again.
  • Call the poison center at 1-800-222-1222 if you spray into eyes or get in mouth, or if you think you are having a bad reaction to DEET.

Take special care with children. Products with a concentration of 30% DEET or less have been shown to be safe for children older than two months. An adult should always apply insect repellants to children. Avoid using the product on children’s hands.

Pesticide SafetyGuide to reading a pesticide label

Pesticides include many more products than just insect repellants, though. Common pesticides found in the home include weed killers, ant traps, flea treatments, rat poison and disinfectants. Every product classified as a pesticide is required to give standard information on the label. Click on the graphic to the right for a guide to reading a pesticide label.

Here are some general tips for using pesticides safely:

  • Read and carefully follow the directions on the pesticide label for use, safety, storage and disposal. Read the label each time you use the product.
  • Use pesticides in a well-ventilated area and keep kids and pets away during application.
  • Never use an outdoor-use pesticides indoors.
  • Store all pesticides out of reach of children and pets.
  • Keep pesticides in their original labeled containers, and store them separately from food, drinks, medications and other products.
  • If you have pesticides you no longer need, be sure to dispose of them properly. Call your town office or local waste facility to find out the best way to get rid of these products in your community.

If someone swallows or inhales a pesticide, or gets one in their eyes or on their skin, call the poison center at 1-800-222-1222, chat online or text POISON to 85511. The poison center is available 24/7, and all calls are free and confidential.

For general questions about the choosing, storing or using pesticides, call the National Pesticide Information Center at 1-800-858-7378 or visit npic.orst.edu.

Crossposted with the UVM Medical Center blog.

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Fiddleheads: How to safely enjoy a seasonal treat

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There is a rich tradition of foraging for fiddleheads in northern New England. These wild-growing ferns can be a tasty treat, as long as you take care when harvesting and cooking them.

Ostrich fern fiddlehead by David Fuller
Ostrich fern fiddlehead by David Fuller, UMaine Cooperative extension

Find only ostrich ferns

The fiddleheads we know as a regional delicacy are the coiled fronds of the ostrich fern. They take their name from their similarity to the scrolls at the top of a violin. These ferns grow in the early spring, generally in a four- to six-week window between late April and early June.

Most types of ferns have fiddleheads, though, so it’s important to be sure you can expertly identify the ostrich fern before you go foraging. Other types of fern may not be nearly as tasty—and can be harmful.

The University of Maine Cooperative Extension has a helpful guide to identifying ostrich ferns. If you are unsure, it’s better to play it safe.

Thorough cooking is key

Eating raw or undercooked fiddleheads has been associated with a number of outbreaks of foodborne illness over the years. While the exact cause of the food poisoning is not known, symptoms are similar to other kinds of foodborne illness, including vomiting and diarrhea. These symptoms may show up in as little as half an hour, but can take as long as 12 hours to appear.

Take these steps to lower your chances of getting foodborne illness from fiddleheads:

  • Wash the fiddleheads thoroughly, until the brown, papery covering has rubbed off and the water runs clean.
  • Cook the fiddleheads thoroughly before using them in any recipe. You can steam them in the microwave or on the stove for 10-12 minutes, or boil them for about 15 minutes.

If you have questions about fiddleheads, poisonous plants or foodborne illness, remember the poison center is here 24/7 to help. Just call 1-800-222-1222 or chat online.

Posted in Poison Prevention, Regional News | Comments Off on Fiddleheads: How to safely enjoy a seasonal treat

Three ways you can help prevent poisonings: Safe use, safe storage, safe disposal

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Most poisonings that happen at home involve products like medications and cleaners. Following three basic principles when it comes to medications and household products can help you prevent poisonings and make you and your family safer.

SAFE USE

Follow all the directions on the product packaging. Read the directions each time you use the product.

A medicine cabinet  
Storing your medications up high in a locked cabinet can help prevent poisonings.

For medications, the directions may include information like:

  • When to take it and how often
  • Whether to take it with food or water
  • Whether you need to avoid alcohol, certain foods, or certain other medications

 If it is a prescription medication, it should only be taken by the person it was prescribed to.

It’s important to know what medical conditions your medications are for. If you are uncertain, have a conversation with your doctor or pharmacist.

For cleaning products, the directions will give you information such as:

  • How to apply the product
  • Whether you need to dilute it by mixing it with water
  • Whether you need to ventilate the room while using it
  • Whether you need to wait awhile before returning to the room

Many other household products will have directions on the label for safe usage. A few examples are:

  • Pesticides, such as bug spray and weed killer
  • Art and office supplies
  • Personal care items, such as deodorants and dental products.


SAFE STORAGE

Keep all potentially poisonous products up high, out of the reach of children and pets—in a locked cabinet if possible.

Re-seal the product as soon as you are done using it, and put it away as soon as possible.


SAFE DISPOSAL

The best way to prevent poisonings is to have as few potentially poisonous products in your home as possible. For that reason, it’s important to safely get rid of products you no longer need as soon as possible. These can include:

  • Expired medications
  • Cleaning products you no longer use
  • Broken household items such as compact fluorescent lightbulbs

Disposal methods depend on the type of product, as well as state and local regulations. If the product label does not give directions on how to get rid it, try contacting your town office. Many towns have specific medication take-back days or household hazardous waste collection days for items such as old cleaners and broken CFLs.

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Are your art supplies toxic? Look for the ACMI seal

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Have you ever walked into a room to find a child’s face covered in marker ink?

Fortunately, most common kids’ art supplies are nontoxic, and a quick call to the poison center at 1-800-222-1222 can put your mind at ease.

You can also get some peace of mind when you buy art supplies by looking for a seal from the ACMI—the Art and Creative Materials Institute. Most art supplies have one of two ACMI seals.

  • ACMI AP SealIf the product has the AP seal, which stands for approved product, that means it has been certified as nontoxic. Products with the AP seal do not have any materials in a large enough quantity to cause short- or long-term health problems. These include products like crayons and children’s markers. All products aimed at children fall into this category.
  • ACMI Cautionary Labeling SealIf the product has the CL seal, which stands for cautionary labeling, that means the product is safe if it is used according to the directions, but may cause some harm if used improperly—for example, if a child swallows it. These include products like glazes, spray paints and rubber cement. The ACMI recommends that children in grade 6 or lower not use these products.

Learn more about the ACMI seals on the organization’s website. Note that the ACMI only certifies products that are sold as art supplies, not office supplies or home improvement products.

Keep in mind that even though most art supplies are not poisonous, they may present a choking hazard. Keep small pieces out of the reach of young children, and keep an eye on young kids when they are using art supplies.

For more information on a few specific art supplies, visit these pages in our A to Z index:

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Eyes, nose, mouth, skin: Four ways poisons can enter the body

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Woman with eye irritation
Many substances can be irritating to the eyes, and the poison center can help. Call 1-800-222-1222.

When you hear the word poisoning, what comes to mind? Is it a young child swallowing something, like a cleaning product?

While swallowing something, such as a medication or a household product, is the most common reason people call the poison center from home, there are several other ways potential poisons can enter the body. Fortunately, the Northern New England Poison Center is here to help you with all of them. Just call 1-800-222-1222, chat online or text POISON to 85511.

Here are the most common ways besides swallowing that poisons enter the body.

Getting something on your skin: Many things can cause symptoms if they come in contact with your skin. Some examples are:

  • Mild irritation from getting gasoline on your hands
  • Itching and burning from touching poison ivy
  • Severe chemical burns from products like drain cleaners

The poison center can give you over-the-phone advice for cleaning up safely and walk you through any other steps you may need to take at home. The poison specialist will also let you know whether you need to go to your doctor or the hospital.

Getting something in your eyes: The eyes are one of the most sensitive parts of the body, and many common products can be quite irritating or even harmful to your eyes. They may cause symptoms like:

  • Burning or stinging from breaking a glow stick open
  • Corneal abrasions from squirting laundry pod liquid
  • Sealing your eyelid shut from mistaking glue for eye drops

The poison center will let you know what to do in each of these cases. Often all you will need to do is rinse your eyes with warm water, and the poison specialist will walk you through the best way to do that. In other cases, the poison center may recommend another treatment, or may suggest you see your doctor or go to the hospital.

Breathing something in: Many fumes and gases can cause symptoms. These can be short-lived, like a headache from briefly inhaling the fumes from an aerosol (spray paint, hair spray), or more serious, from breathing in a dangerous gas like carbon monoxide.

If you are having symptoms after breathing something in, or if your carbon monoxide alarm is going off, get to fresh air. The poison center will let you know when it is safe to go back inside, and will let you know whether you need medical treatment.

Remember the poison center is here for you 24/7, offering quick expert advice in all kinds of situations. Just call 1-800-222-1222, chat online or text POISON to 85511.

Posted in Poison Prevention | Comments Off on Eyes, nose, mouth, skin: Four ways poisons can enter the body

Are you at risk for a medication interaction?

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Woman holding two pill bottlesDo you regularly take more than one medication?

The more medicine you take—including prescription medications, over-the-counter medications and supplements—the more likely you are to have a medication error or a harmful interaction between your medications.

The risks are especially high for older adults, who often take multiple medications. According to a study released this year, about 1 in 6 adults age 62 and older are at risk for a harmful drug interaction.

What can you do to decrease your risk?

  • Keep a list of all the medications you take, including supplements and natural products.
  • Share this list with your health care provider and your pharmacist at every visit.
  • Fill all your prescriptions at one pharmacy if possible. This makes it easier for your pharmacist to identify possible prescription drug interactions.
  • Keep track of your medication schedule. Consider using a written calendar and checking a box each time you take a medication.

The poison center is here to help. Call 1-800-222-1222, chat online or text POISON to 85511 if:

  • You took the wrong medication
  • You took too much of your medication
  • You took your medication at the wrong time
  • You aren’t feeling well after taking a medication
Posted in Medication Safety | Comments Off on Are you at risk for a medication interaction?

Avoid poisonings when using flea treatments

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Fleas: It’s a word no pet owner wants to hear. These little insects can cause your dog or cat lots of itching and scratching, and sometimes other health problems, such as hair loss, skin irritation, anemia, and tapeworms.There are many types of flea products: pills, collars, sprays, dips, shampoos, powders and spot-on products—a liquid you squeeze onto your pet’s skin between their shoulder blades or down their back. Talk to your veterinarian about which product is best for your pet.Whichever product you use, it’s important to take care when using flea treatments. Like any pesticide, a flea treatment can be harmful to your pet or family if not used correctly. Here are some tips for using flea products safely:

Cats scratching
CDC photo
  • Choose the right product for your type of pet, and your pet’s size. For example, a product intended for dogs may be harmful to cats, or a product for a bigger animal could be poisonous to a smaller one.
  • Read the product label before you use it each time and follow the directions exactly.
  • When possible, apply the product to your pet outdoors.
  • Keep your pet away from other animals and young children and avoid petting your pet until after the product dries.
  • Wash your hands after using a flea treatment product.
  • Store products up high, out of the reach of children and pets.

Watch your pet for side effects after you use the product. If your pet is acting unusual or seems sick call your veterinarian or contact the poison center—call 1-800-222-1222, chat online or text POISON to 85511. Contact the poison center for treatment advice if you or a family member has any symptoms such as upset stomach, rash or trouble breathing.If your pet has a bad experience after you apply a spot-on product, give your pet a bath right away. Use mild soap and rinse with a lot of water. Then call your veterinarian.

Fleas in the Home

While you will likely spot adult fleas on your pet or elsewhere in your home, flea eggs or larvae may be hiding throughout your pet’s environment, usually in places like carpeting, bedding and under furniture edges. So if your pet has fleas, it’s important to do what you can to clean your home as well. Take these steps: 

  • Vacuum every day to remove fleas and their eggs and larvae. Concentrate on carpets and cushioned furniture, any cracks or crevices in the floor and along the baseboards.
  • Steam clean your carpets. The hot steam and soap kill fleas, eggs and larvae.
  • Wash your pet’s bedding, and any family bedding your pet sleeps on, in hot, soapy water.
  • Use a flea comb to remove fleas, flea feces and dried blood from your pet’s fur. Thoroughly comb the neck and tail area where most fleas are.
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Watch out for brown-tail moth caterpillars

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Brown-tail moth caterpillar
Brown-tail moth caterpillar photo via the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry

Brown-tail moth caterpillars are out in force in parts of Maine, particularly along the coast, and will likely remain a problem through the end of June.

These caterpillars have tiny poisonous hairs that can cause skin or lung irritation. You don’t have to touch the caterpillar to contact its hairs. They often get into the air when the caterpillar sheds.

Most people who develop symptoms get a small rash that lasts a few hours or days, but some people can have a severe rash that lasts for weeks. Breathing in the hairs can also cause severe lung irritation.

If you are having symptoms related to brown-tail moths, contact the poison center at 1-800-222-1222, chat online or text POISON to 85511. We can determine whether you need see your doctor or pharmacist or visit the emergency department.

There are some steps you can take to prevent contact with poisonous caterpillar hairs if you have them in your yard:

  • Dry your laundry indoors, rather than out on a line, so hairs do not get in your clothes.
  • When doing outdoor activities that might stir up hairs, such as mowing, raking, and weed whacking:
    • Perform tasks on a damp day with little wind, or spray down grass or plants with a hose. This helps keep the hairs from getting up into the air.
    • Wear a respirator, goggles, and long sleeves and pants.
    • Take a cool shower immediately after working, and wash your work clothes.

Get more information about brown-tail moths from the Maine Forest Service.

Posted in Poison Prevention, Regional News | Comments Off on Watch out for brown-tail moth caterpillars

Get expert advice in minutes, 24/7

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If you have ever had to take a young child to the emergency room, you know that the process can feel like an eternity—driving to the hospital while worrying if your child is all right, registering at the emergency department and then waiting to see a nurse or doctor. By the time the whole trip is done, it may have taken hours just to find out, hopefully, that your child is fine and you can go home.

Clock ticking
Image by Kengo Preston.
(Creative Commons)

Imagine if you could get fast, expert advice without needing to leave your home—that you could have the answer you need in minutes over the phone rather than spending hours in an emergency department waiting room or exam room.

The Northern New England Poison Center provides just that. Nine out of 10 times that people call the poison center about young children, they can be treated at home over the phone. If you or your child took the wrong medication or too much medication, or swallowed something that wasn’t food or drink, contact the poison center to get fast first-aid advice that can save you time and money. In many cases the poison center will call you back to check on you and your child and see if you have any questions.

The NNEPC is committed to making it as easy as possible for you to reach us. Not only can you call us on the national poison center help line, 1-800-222-1222, you can also get quick advice from the same poison experts by texting the word POISON to 85511, or by chatting online on our website.

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Time to clean out old medications and hazardous waste

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While you’re giving your home a thorough spring cleaning, it’s a good time to get rid of things you no longer need, like old medications. In fact, there is a great opportunity this month to dispose of medications that have expired or that you no longer need.

DEA medication take-back logoThe DEA is holding a national drug take-back from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, April 30, 2016. Police stations and other locations across the country will be accepting medications for disposal. Getting rid of medications at a take-back event can help prevent poisonings of young children and pets, keep medications out of the environment, and help prevent them from being abused.

Visit the DEA’s site to find a take-back location near you.

Also remember to get rid of your household hazardous waste—items that contain chemicals that can be harmful to health or the environment. If the label says the product is toxic, corrosive, reactive, explosive, ignitable or flammable, it is likely hazardous waste and cannot be thrown in your regular trash.

Household hazardous waste can include electronics, certain types of batteries, paint, mercury-containing products such as thermometers and fluorescent light bulbs, pesticides, gasoline and certain cleaning products. Many towns have special hazardous waste collection days when you can get rid of these items safely.

CFL bulb
Compact fluorescent light bulbs contain some mercury, and should be disposed of as hazardous waste. Photo from SFHazWaste, Creative Commons.

The best way to find out how to dispose of these items is to call your town office.

You can find more information regarding disposal in your state online:

There are also many alternatives to using hazardous products. The EPA’s Safer Choice Standard identifies products that are still effective but safer for people and the environment.

If you have questions about medications or household products, contact the NNEPC. We are here to help 24/7. Just call 1-800-222-1222, chat online or text POISON to 85511.

Posted in Medication Safety, National News, Poison Prevention | Comments Off on Time to clean out old medications and hazardous waste