Wednesday, June 17, 2020

One Thing to Look Out for this Summer: Harmful Algal Blooms

The summer heat is on in Texas and that is driving many people to lakes, rivers, and beaches. There have been recent reports throughout Texas of harmful algal blooms (HABs) also known as “red tide”, that in recent years have become an increased health concern.

What are HABs?
For starters, algae are known as a nonflowering plant that lives in water. Most types of algae are harmless. HABs are formed by microscopic algae. Algae can sometimes have an overgrowth in areas, which is usually due in part to increased amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus.
Unfortunately, it seems humans are contributing to this issue. An example of how humans might have contributed to this is by fertilizer running off into nearby water coming from farm fields close by. It might not seem like it has the potential to cause a big problem, but when algae take in these rich nutrients, they can start to grow at alarming rates. When they grow, they turn the water various colors of red (hence, the term “red tide”), brown, yellow, and/or green. It can also create an icky film on the top of the water. If you are out and about at a lake, river, or beach this summer and fall, you might notice the algae in the water. These blooms are most often found in the summer or fall seasons.

Why are they dangerous?
Algal blooms consume oxygen and block sunlight that other marine life and organisms live off. They also produce a toxin that is harmful and can kill fish, other marine animals, and in worst-case scenarios, even people. These toxins are known to accumulate in muscles, clams, scallops, and even oysters. People can become ill when they eat these toxic shellfish.

Symptoms of Algal Bloom Ingestion
·       Numbness and tingling of the face, hands, and feet
·       Nausea
·       Vomiting
·       Diarrhea

If you think you have consumed toxic shellfish, please do not hesitate to contact the Texas Poison Center Network.  We are available 24/7 at 1-800-222-1222.

Additionally, HAB’s can also lead to ciguatera fish poisoning which occurs after the fish are exposed to these same toxins. Luckily, these are usually only found around the Caribbean and Pacific Islands. There is still a risk that you might eat contaminated fish from those regions without knowing it. Symptoms are similar to ones from eating the contaminated shellfish. However, one of the defining symptoms of ciguatera poisoning is sensory reversal, in which cold things feel hot and hot things feel cold. While most individuals will recover without any treatment, the symptoms could last weeks. The most common fish to be poisoned with HABs include hogfish, barracuda, and king mackerel. This is due largely in part because these fish are larger in size and tend to eat smaller fish that have consumed HABs.

Can You Swim in Water with HABs?
Water contaminated with HABs can cause a rash, itching, skin irritation, and nose, eye, and throat irritation. If you have asthma, it can cause you even further discomfort, especially if you accidentally inhale the contaminated water. Even swallowing the water can cause diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain.

How do I prevent HABs Poisoning?
Follow these steps to help eliminate your potential for encountering HABs.

·       Always avoid any contact with water that might be discolored or have a scum or film floating on the top of the water.
·       Try to avoid any activities, like playing, swimming, or boating, in water that looks contaminated by HABs.
·       If you see discolored water or view algal scum, please do not fish in these waters.
·       Try not to swallow or drink water that is not treated. These include lakes, streams, and/or rivers.
·       Same steps apply to your pets!

If you do find yourself in contact with HABs, wash your hands with soap and water, then call the poison center at 1-800-222-1222 to speak with a poison specialist that can provide additional information.   

Thursday, June 4, 2020

What You Need to Know About Anti-Anxiety Medications

With COVID-19 continuing to cause disruption in people’s lives, more and more are turning to anti-anxiety medications to help with their stress and anxiety.

The Wall Street Journal recently reported that prescriptions for anti-anxiety medications such as Xanax (Alprazolam), Klonopin (Clonazepam), and Ativan (Lorazepam) rose 10.2% in the U.S. to 9.7 million in March 2020 (compared to 8.8 million in March 2019), according to the latest data from health-research firm IQVIA. According to a survey released March 25th by the American Psychiatric Association more than one-third of Americans say the pandemic is having a “serious impact” on their mental health.

While anti-anxiety medications can be helpful in the short term for anxiety issues, they can also be extremely dangerous and sometimes even deadly when taken incorrectly.  Benzodiazepines such as alprazolam, clonazepam, and lorazepam are commonly prescribed to treat anxiety and other medical conditions including seizures and insomnia.  Benzodiazepines work in the central nervous system by binding to GABA receptors which serve as the brakes in the brain, thus blocking excessive activity of the neurons, which causes a calming feeling and helps decrease anxiety.

If these medications are not taken as prescribed, they can be very dangerous. Common side effects include drowsiness, sleepiness and dizziness, among others. If too much of these are taken or if they are mixed with alcohol or other medications such as opioids, an overdose can occur.  Signs of an overdose can include:
·       Extreme drowsiness or trouble staying awake
·       Slurred speech or confusion
·       Agitation
·       Lack of muscle coordination
·       Coma

If you or someone you know is suffering any of these symptoms, please do not hesitate to contact your local poison center in Texas.  If someone is having trouble breathing, call 911. The Texas Poison Center Network is always just a phone call away to assist with questions or concerns about a possible overdose or any other type of poisoning or side-effect at 1-800-222-1222.  Visit our website at for more information.

Monday, May 11, 2020

What You Need to Know about the Asian Giant Hornet

Various articles and memes have been circulating social media involving the Asian giant hornets (Vespa mandarinia), which have recently come to be known as “murder hornets”. These articles report that the Asian-based hornets have made their way to the United States, causing concern across the nation.

The Asian giant hornet is the world’s largest at roughly two inches long in length. It has a distinctive black tooth used for burrowing. Its stinger is also very large at about a quarter inch in length.    The concern regarding these hornets is certainly warranted as they do pack a painful sting. Scientists are currently working on locating these wasps and prevent their spread across the US.

The hornets have become infamous on the internet, but this news was originally shared with the public to increase awareness. In the state of Washington, where a couple of spotting’s of these hornets have occurred, information regarding these citing’s was shared to ensure the public would keep a look out for and report any possible nests. The reason we do not want the Asian hornets in the U.S. is due largely in part because they eat and kill honeybees and can be a threat to the honeybee population.

The good news is the Asian giant hornet, a non-native species in the United States, is not found in Texas and the reality of this being a concern for Texans is rare. In fact, mosquitoes, bees and yellow jackets can be more of a concern when it comes to bites & stings. If you are stung by a bee, wasp, or hornet, you can do the following. 

  • Remove the stinger by scraping across the skin with a credit card.
  • Apply ice or cool water for 10 to 30 minutes after the sting.

If you think you have been stung by a bee, wasp, or hornet, contact the Texas Poison Center Network at 1-800-222-1222 for treatment advice. If you are having an allergic reaction that includes difficulty breathing dial 911.  The poison center is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to help. For more information on the Asian giant hornet visit and for more information on bites and stings visit the Texas Poison Center Network’s website at

Monday, April 27, 2020

TPCN SPI Spotlight: South Texas Poison Center Arika Mike

1. Tell me your history with poison control and how you became a SPI. (Length of time worked there/background/passion for this, etc.)

I have worked as a SPI for nearing two years, starting at the New Mexico Poison & Drug Information Center and now currently at the South Texas Poison Center. I have had an interest in poison control since I was a student pharmacist at the University of New Mexico College of Pharmacy. I served as Poison Prevention Co-Chair for the Student Society of Health-System Pharmacy professional organization at my school during my 2nd year and completed a rotation at the New Mexico Poison & Drug Information Center during my 4th year. After graduating pharmacy school, I completed a PGY-1 Community Pharmacy Residency with Baylor Scott & White Health. I was able to do a rotation at the Central Texas Poison Center where my passion for poison control grew even further. I appreciate that I get to directly help my community by providing quality information to patients and providers in emergency situations.

2.  I’m sure you hear a lot of interesting stories when answering calls, but what is one story that sticks out in your head that might have been scary, but turned out funny and/or everything worked out after the call.

I got a call from a mom recently and her child had got into a Tide Pod that had burst in the child’s mouth, the child was vomiting at the time and mom was very concerned. I told mom that we can watch this at home since it had just happened and sometimes the soap in the Tide Pods can be upsetting to the stomach. I told mom what "red flag" symptoms that she would need to go immediately to the hospital for (continued vomiting, trouble breathing, drowsiness or coughing). When I called back mom didn’t answer, but after the second call a few hours later I was able to speak with mom. She ended up taking the child to the hospital because of drowsiness. The patient developed no further symptoms at the hospital. Mom voiced gratitude for poison control being there to walk her through a scary situation and that I had taken the time to follow-up with her to make sure the child was okay.

3. What do you think people need to know about the people who answer the phones for poison control?
Often callers wonder why we ask so many questions during a call from their child’s weight to whether they have any health problems. I think people need to know that the specialists who answer the phones are healthcare providers who are actively making decisions that impact each individual patient’s care.

4. What do you enjoy most about your job and why?

As a pharmacist I have always enjoyed explaining something that can be complex in a way that a patient can understand. With poison control I am able to do this, and I enjoy working with unique and interesting cases.

5. Why do you think it is important for people to have poison control as a resource for emergency help?

I think it is important for people to have poison control as a resource because many exposures can be managed at home, which is a huge cost saver for patients and for the public.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

How Poison Centers Work and How They Can Help You

Every day, by the hour, lives are being saved. Why? Because of the presence of poison control centers. Across the nation there exist 55 poison centers who assist with various poisoning emergencies as well as answer questions and provide any information to help prevent poisonings. Specially trained poison experts, known as Specialists in Poison Information (SPI), at each poison center include nurses, pharmacists, toxicologists and physicians. They can be reached 24 hours a day by calling the toll-free Poison Help line at 1-800-222-1222, which then connects you with your local poison center.
History of a Poison Center
The idea for a poison center came from a part-time secretary from the American Academy of Pediatrics during the early 1950s. The secretary contacted hospitals in Chicago to find out why children were in the emergency room with certain problems. What had they eaten? What did they drink?

At the time, companies did not have to tell people much about the ingredients in their products. The secretary asked companies about the ingredients in their products that might be making children sick. She then asked a group of medical professionals to create treatment guidelines for as many products as possible. When doctors had questions, they would call her, and she would read medical advice to them off the note cards.

Soon after, the U.S. Surgeon General ordered copies of her 1,000 index cards to be sent to health departments across the country. From this, the first poison center was founded, and the idea spread throughout the nation.

What do Poison Centers Offer

·       Help with a poisoning emergency, which can often be treated over the phone rather than calling 911 or visiting the emergency room. (Which saves Emergency Rooms or Ambulance costs)
·       Medical advice for healthcare professionals and the general public.
·       Real-time de-identified data collection that aids in detecting public health emergencies.
·       Free and confidential help, with interpretation services available in over 100 languages.
·       Assistance with pill identification.
·       Help with all types of poisonings including insect, snake or spider bites, plants, household chemicals, medication mix ups or overdoses and more.
·       Poison Prevention Poster and Video Contest Annually 
·       Free educational materials
·       Free educational presentations

What information to have readily available when calling a poison control center?
·       How old is the patient?
·       About how much does the patient weigh?
·       What is the name of the product or substance involved? Be as specific as you can-it can help to have the bottle or packaging with you on the phone. Poison experts use a database that contains detailed information on thousands of products.
·       How much of the substance did the patient swallow, breathe in or get on their skin? If you don't know, the poison specialist will help you estimate.

Based on this information, the poison specialist will tell you what you need to do. It could be as simple as drinking some water or eating a Popsicle. In some circumstances, they may need to send you to the hospital. If so, they will ask which hospital you are closest to and call ahead to let them know you are coming.

The poison center will also collect a little bit of personal information from you for your medical chart-your first name, the patient's first name, your phone number and the zip code you are calling from. This information is confidential. This information is important because it helps us to find your case if you need to call us back for any reason.
For questions or concerns, call the Texas Poison Center Network experts at 1-800-222-1222.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Poison Experts Warn Against Using Medications or Household Products to Prevent Coronavirus

The Texas Poison Center Network wants you and your family to stay safe from the current   
Coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. There are many steps you can take to protect yourself and others such as washing your hands frequently, practicing social distancing, and cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces.

While there is no vaccine against or cures for COVID-19, there are reports of products and medications that claim to “cure” or “protect” people from becoming ill circulating the internet; none of them approved for use and some of them potentially harmful.  Please remember that no medication or product should be used for COVID-19 without consulting your physician first. 

Some recent examples include individuals attempting to drink bleach to try and get rid of the coronavirus in their system.  This is of course not helpful and incredibly dangerous and should never be attempted.  Bleach is not intended for human consumption.   
Other examples include individuals taking the active ingredient in an anti-malarial drug to fight COVID-19. Chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine have been mentioned in many blogs and posts online as a possible “cure”.  They have even made it onto the President’s news conferences.  This came after a recent report that suggested these medications were being tested to treat COVID-19 in other countries.  There has been some improvement in critical patients taking these medications, but they are still in the early stages of testing.  We do know however that these ingredients are highly toxic and have caused many deaths due to ingestion.  There are reports of people who inadvertently have overdosed attempting to treat themselves with these products.   Texas Poison Centers want you to know that these medications and products can cause significant illness with permanent damage or death if taken in the incorrect dose or manner.

If you or someone you know has taken chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine, call the Poison Helpline at 1-800-222-1222 right away. If someone is experiencing seizures, difficulty breathing, turning blue or is unconscious, call 911 immediately.

If you are diagnosed with the COVID-19, please follow your doctor’s instructions and limit contact with others.  There is no specific cure or treatment.  If you are concerned about contracting coronavirus, now is the time to practice social distancing and only leave your home if absolutely necessary, such as for groceries or medications. For more information on COVID-19, please visit

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Poison Prevention Week Brings Awareness to the Dangers of Potential Poisons

National Poison Prevention Week, March 15-21, 2020 is quickly approaching, and we want to take
this time to bring awareness to potential poisons and how you can stay safe. In 1961, the United States designated the third full week of March as National Poison Prevention Week, a week dedicated to highlighting the dangers of poisonings. Poisonings are currently the leading cause of injury related death in the country. Many of these poisonings can be preventable. And for those that aren’t always preventable, a poison expert is only a phone call away and ready to assist you.

In 2018, poison centers in the US received approximately 2.6 million calls on poison exposures. That means the poison centers averaged a new case about every 12 seconds. According to the Lewin Report, approximately $1.8 billion dollars was the amount of money poison control centers saved Americans in unnecessary medical costs in 2018. Because of these calls, the poison centers were able to help save lives and cut down visits to the emergency room.

Poison centers are an incredible help when it comes to major public health emergencies and epidemics. Since 2011, poison centers have handled over 500,000 calls relating to opioid misuse and abuse. They have also handled calls regarding trending issues such as liquid laundry packets, button batteries, synthetic drugs and, most recently, the coronavirus.

Poison centers assist the public with their poisoning concerns, but they also assist first responders and hospital personnel dealing with poison emergencies. Poison centers are an excellent resource. They even assist in identifying emerging drugs of abuse and provide countless hours of education to healthcare professionals and the general public.   

What is considered a poison?
A poison is any substance, including medications, which can be harmful to your body if ingested, inhaled, injected or absorbed through the skin. Accidental poisoning can occur when a person is unintentionally exposed to a substance without wanting to cause themselves harm.
Poisonings are more common than you think. According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC), approximately 90 percent of these poisonings are happening at home, with over half of them involving children under six years old.

Here are some poison facts and tips to remember:
  • In children ages six and younger, the most common exposures are to medicines, personal care and cleaning products.
  • Child-resistant packages are not childproof. Most two-year olds can open a child-resistant container in 3 minutes or less.
  • Calling 1-800-222-1222 from anywhere in the United States will connect you to your regional poison center.  
  • Keep all poisons locked up, away and out of reach of children.
  • Never refer to medicine (prescription, vitamins or otherwise) as candy as children often mistake tiny pills for yummy candy.

What to do if you believe you have been exposed to a potential poison. 
In the event that you or someone with you has been potentially poisoned, always remember to first remain calm. Then immediately call the toll-free Poison Help line at 1-800-222-1222. Follow all the instructions you are given by the poison control specialist. Often, the poison control specialist will call back to make sure that things are okay. For more information on preventing poisonings, please visit the Texas Poison Center Network website at

Thursday, March 5, 2020

TPCN SPI Spotlight: Hollie Blair, Central Texas Poison Center

Hollie Blair

1.      Tell me your history with poison control and how you became a Specialist in Poison Information (SPI).
I graduated from pharmacy school in 1990 and worked in retail pharmacy for 5 years before coming to the Poison Center.  During that time, I was diagnosed with undifferentiated spondylarthropy and was unable to stand for a prolonged time due to pain.  As a result, I had to find a job where I could sit down.  I called the College of Pharmacy to talk to some of my prior instructors to see if they had any ideas for where I might be able to work.  Luckily, Doug Borys had called the College of Pharmacy only a few days prior to my call, and he was looking for pharmacists to work at the newly formed Poison Center in Temple.  Talk about good timing!  I interviewed shortly afterward and have been working here at Poison Center for 25 years this June.

2.      I’m sure you hear a lot of interesting stories when answering calls, but what is one story that sticks out in your head that might have been scary but turned out funny and/or everything worked out after the call. One story I recall was a toddler that ingested a bite out of his grandmother’s post-mastectomy prosthetic breast!  We assured her it was not toxic but was a choking hazard.  The child remained asymptomatic.

3.      What do you think people need to know about the people who answer the phones for poison control?
The people at the Poison Center may feel like they are playing a game of 20 questions with you, but rest assured they are only gathering information which will help them to make a well-informed recommendation!

4.      What do you enjoy most about your job and why?
The thing I love most about my job is the diversity of calls we get on a daily basis and having the opportunity to help people during a stressful situation.

5.      Why do you think it is important for people to have poison control as a resource for emergency help?
I believe having the Poison Center as a resource for emergency help is vital to the growing burden on our emergency rooms.  If we can determine that a patient can be monitored at home, it will save both time and money for both the patient and the healthcare system in general.