SIKESTON -- From eating a cigarette butt, which can cause seizures in children, to swallowing bleach (not as harmful as you'd think), the Poison Control Center has heard it all over the past 45 years.
This week marks Poison Prevention Week, the nationally recognized week to educate and inform consumers of the dangers of unintentional poisonings. What some may not realize is Poison Prevention Week actually started in Southeast Missouri, said Ivy Tominack, public education coordinator for Missouri Regional Poison Control Center in St. Louis.
"There was a pharmacist in Cape Girardeau and his name was Homer George. He went to the mayor of Cape Girardeau and said, 'There's a National Pickle Week and a National Mother Week -- and I don't think they've killed anybody, but poisons do every day,'" Tominack said.
The mayor proclaimed Poison Prevention Week in 1950. Eventually legislation was passed, declaring the third full week in March as National Poison Prevention Week with then-President John F. Kennedy signing the first proclamation in 1961.
Currently Missouri is the third busiest poison control center in the country. In 2005, the Missouri center received 127,500 calls compared to 110,000 in 2004, according to Tominack.
"We are open 24/7," Tominack said about the center. "People who answer calls are nurses and pharmacists -- not well-meaning volunteers. And all calls are kept confidential."
Sixty-five percent of calls come from parents of children who may have been poisoned, Tominack said. More than 90 percent of poison exposures can be treated safely at home, she said.
The top three reasons for majority of calls for children 6 and under are for consuming cosmetics, household cleaning products and pain medications, Tominack said.
And sometimes it's products that seem unlikely to be poisonous that actually are.
"We worry more about Visine (eye drops) than bleach," Tominack said. "If ingested, Visine causes heart rate depression and respiratory depression. Bleach, if swallowed by accident, just makes a person spontaneously throw up."
Up until the last three years, Dr. Jim Barnes, director of pharmacy at Missouri Delta Medical Center in Sikeston, was the "Mr. Yuck" man who visited area kindergartners and first graders during Poison Prevention Week.
"Most of the schools now give poison information through their regular teachers and emphasize it in all the programs," Barnes said. "There are so many things that children get into and we don't think about it," Barnes said. But Barnes thinks more people today are aware of the poison control number. "Lots of improvements have been made from national advertising and locally," Barnes said.
The poison control center also helps adults, Tominack said. It receives many calls about suicide attempts. The center did see an increase in information calls, too.
"We can identify a pill based on the number located on the pill. We've had pregnant women call about medicines they're taking and how they will affect the unborn," Tominack said.
The key is planning and thinking ahead, Barnes said.
"Always have the poison prevention number handy and physicians' phones numbers on hand. And give any of those to care givers because might need them," Barnes said.
Always have the bottle or container when calling the poison hotline to tell them the name of the product and what it contains, Barnes said.
"When someone calls the poison center, we collect information such as who ate what, how long and how much," Tominack said. "Then based on the person's weight, we do one of three things: tell the caller symptoms to watch for and procedures to follow, tell them to go to the hospital via ambulance or to go to the hospital by regular vehicle."
No matter what the situation, the center always follows up with the caller, Tominack said.
"If you have to go to hospital, you tell us where you want to go and we make the call and inform them of the seriousness of the situation," Tominack said. For example, if someone receives a snake bite, then the center faxes treatment protocol to the hospital.
Tominack pointed out the poison control hotline is a phone service, and it doesn't provide diagnosis.
"We don't diagnose food poisoning and we don't identify plants. If you give the common or botanical name, we can tell you whether it's toxic."
Otherwise, callers are encouraged to take the plant to the nearest nursery or garden center, Tominack said.
"While we recognize the significant strides that have been made in poison prevention, every day there are new parents, grandparents and childcare providers who may not be aware of the potential for poisonings," said Kathy Wruk, president of American Association of Poison Control Centers.
To contact the Poison Control Center, call 1-800-222-1222. When calls are received, the area code is traced, and calls are transferred to the center in the caller's region.