Staff member in Cath Lab in scrubsStaff in scrubs in the Cath LabStaff in scrubs in the Cath Lab


Bites, stings and poisoning common at this time of year

Summer is a busy time for the Victorian Poisons Information Centre (VPIC), which is based at Austin Health.

“Common poisonings at this time of year include snake or spider bites and jellyfish stings, along with the common types of exposures that occur year round, such as accidental or deliberate poisoning with medicines, alcohol and other recreational substances,” VPIC Manager, Rohan Elliott, says.

“Around Christmas and New Year we also see a spike in toddlers eating Christmas decorations and exposures to the contents of glow sticks.”

In January 2021 there were 146 calls relating to paracetamol, 43 relating to alcohol, 41 relating to spider bites, 37 relating to snake bites, 26 about pool-related products and 14 in relation to spoilt food.

VPIC is a state-wide service for members of the public and health professionals. The service ensures patients who are poisoned or envenomed receive the most appropriate treatment.

It receives more than 40,000 calls a year and in many cases the advice prevents unnecessary ambulance call outs and unnecessary visits to hospital emergency departments or GPs.

The team consists of 10 poisons information specialists who are supported by clinical toxicologists, clinical toxicology fellows, and a toxicology registrar. 

VPIC also provides education and advice to the public, health professionals and government departments about poisoning prevention, and conducts research to improve the prevention and management of poisonings.

“We maintain a register of antidotes and antivenoms held by hospitals throughout Victoria, to assist clinicians to source these life-saving medicines in emergency situations,” Rohan says.

His advice for anyone heading off for a summer break is to be aware of their surroundings.

“Watch out for snakes if walking in parklands, be familiar with first aid and carry a pressure bandage if bush walking over the warmer months,” he says.

“Store medicines safely away from kids when out of the usual home routine, when camping, at holiday houses or staying with grandparents.

“Be aware of beaches with jellyfish warnings.

“Have the 24/7 poisons line (13 11 26) programmed into your phone.”