Paraffin ingestion - the problem
Paraffin ingestion is the commonest cause of accidental childhood poisoning in South Africa. Children from the lower socio-economic group are affected most. They drink paraffin in the summer months from bottles or intermediate containers, mistaking it for water or colddrink.
The children are predominantly male with a mean age of 24 months. The clinical picture is one of respiratory distress with a hospital case fatality rate of 0,74%. The use of paraffin as a source of household energy in South Africa is on the increase. Based on a modernisation index it would seem that this trend will continue into the next century. It can therefore be expected that the number of cases of paraffin ingestion will steadily increase if no active steps are taken to address the problem.
Prevention should entail a wide spectrum of measures, the basis of which should be a child-resistant container. An effective durable, low-cost child-resistant container which is easy to pour from should be made available by petroleum companies and/or entrepreneurs and distributed through their network. This should be combined with health education on the danger of paraffin. Health care workers and administrators should be made more aware of the problem and become involved in health education and prevention.
Further research should be undertaken on the effect a change in the colour of paraffin and the use of childresistant caps would have on the incidence of paraffin ingestion in South Africa.