Fewer children are ingesting or coming into contact with harmful levels of gas, lighter fluid and other "hydrocarbons," according to a new Pediatrics study, but the number of related ER visits and poison center calls over the past decade suggests a lingering problem in the U.S.

From 2000 to 2009, there were more than 66,000 calls to regional poison centers regarding children younger than five who were injured by ingesting or coming into contact with hydrocarbons. More than 40,000 resulted in emergency room visits. One-third of the incidents occurred during the warmest months while only one-fifth occurred during the traditional cold-weather months. The vast majority involved children ages one or two.

The most common injuries occurred at service stations when children inhaled or came into contact with gasoline. These typically did not result in ER visits. But severe injuries and respiratory problems occurred among toddlers when they mistook harmful liquids for beverages, according to the study.

"Inquisitive children mistakenly identify hydrocarbons as a food item or beverage and attempt to ingest the poison ... The tendency of children to mimic adult behaviors, such as siphoning gasoline, and their potential to be attracted to the smell of some hydrocarbon substances may, in part, lead to these injuries."

The stat that perplexed me: two thirds of the poison center calls and ER visits involved boys. Why? Most of these cases involved toddlers. Are little boys already conditioned to hang around garages and barbecue pits more than little girls? I've asked the question of the authors from Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. I'll update when I get an answer on that one.


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