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Unintentional pediatric poisonings before and during the COVID-19 pandemic: a population-based study

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Objectives — The impact of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) on unintentional pediatric poisonings is unclear. We examined changes in emergency department (ED) visits and hospitalizations for poisonings before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. We compared changes in cannabis vs non-cannabis poisoning events given the recent legalization of cannabis in October 2018 and cannabis edibles in January 2020.

Study Design — Interrupted time-series (ITS) analyses of changes in population-level ED visits and hospitalizations for poisonings in children aged 0–9 years in Ontario, Canada (annual population of 1.4 million children), over two time periods: pre-pandemic (January 2010–March 2020) and pandemic (April 2020–December 2021).

Results — Overall, there were 28,292 ED visits and 2641 hospitalizations for unintentional poisonings. During the pandemic, poisonings per 100,000 person-years decreased by 14.6% for ED visits (40.15 pre- vs. 34.29 during) and increased by 35.9% for hospitalizations (3.48 pre- vs. 4.73 during). ED visits dropped immediately (Incidence Rate Ratio [IRR], 0.76; 95% CI, 0.70–0.82) at the onset of the pandemic, followed by a gradual return to baseline (quarterly change, IRR 1.04, 95%CI 1.03–1.06), while hospitalizations had an immediate increase (IRR 1.34; 95% CI, 1.08–1.66) and no gradual change. The only increase in poisonings was for cannabis which had a 10.7-fold for ED visits (0.45 to 4.83 per 100,000 person-years) and a 12.1-fold increase for hospitalizations (0.16 to 1.91 per 100,000 person-years). Excluding cannabis, there was no overall increase in poisoning hospitalizations.

Conclusions — The COVID-19 pandemic was not associated with increases in any type of unintentional pediatric poisonings, with the exception of cannabis poisonings. Increased cannabis poisonings may be explained by the legalization of non-medical cannabis edibles in Canada in January 2020.

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Citation

Myran DT, Gaudreault A, McCarthy SDS, Pugliese M, Tanuseputro P, Finkelstein Y. Am J Emerg Med. 2023; Dec 1 [Epub ahead of print].

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