Sept 22, 2003: What is the role of the Poison Center following Chemical Agent Exposure?

Chemical exposure can cause unexplained and unusual symptoms, which must be diagnosed and treated early.  Protective equipment and decontamination play a significant role in preventing morbidity and mortality when there is a mass release of an agent.  Previously standardized protocols have been developed to manage accidental releases of hazardous material (HAZMAT).  These protocols are not applicable when there is an attack using chemical weapons.  Analysis of epidemic information, antidote and pharmaceutical capabilities, and level of care available at each hospital are just a few of the facts that must be immediately available.

The Poison Center (PC) plays a unique role in identifying, triaging, and managing patients with exposure to chemical (or biologic) agents.  The PC provides: 24 hour phone system; surveillance; information such as antidote availability and level of care at each hospital; information to the “worried well: (those who think they may have been exposed and want to know if they should seek medical assistance); and most importantly, expertise in the management of chemical agent exposure.  Other key roles the PC plays include education of both health care providers and the public about the effects of chemical agents when used as terrorist threats.

You will notice a new sticker on poison center literature.  It says  “ Call 1-800-222-1222 in a poison emergency or chemical-biological disaster.” 

As always, if there are any questions, call the Poison Center.
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Donna Seger, M.D., Medical Director, Middle Tennessee Poison Center