Malathion poisoning

Definition

Malathion is a type of insecticide, a product used to kill or control bugs. Poisoning may occur if you swallow malathion, handle the product without gloves, or fail to wash hands soon after exposure. Significant amounts are absorbed through the skin unless proper precautions are taken.

This is for information only and not for use in the treatment or management of an actual poison exposure. If you have an exposure, you should call your local emergency number (such as 911) or the National Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222.

For information on general insecticide poisonings, see Insecticides.

Alternative Names

Carbofos poisoning; Compound 4049 poisoning; Cythion poisoning; Fosfothion poisoning; Mercaptothion poisoning

Poisonous Ingredient

  • Malathion

Where Found

Malathion is used for agricultural purposes to kill and control insects on crops and in gardens. It is also used in government programs to kill mosquitos in large outdoor areas.

Malathion may also be found in certain products to kill head lice.

Symptoms

  • Airways and lungs
    • Chest tightness
    • Difficulty breathing
  • Bladder and kidneys
  • Eyes, ears, nose, and throat
  • Heart and blood
    • Low or high blood pressure
    • Slow or rapid heart rate
    • Weakness
  • Nervous system
  • Skin
    • Blue skin (lips and fingernails)
    • Sweating
  • Stomach and gastrointestinal tract
    • Abdominal cramps
    • Diarrhea
    • Loss of appetite
    • Nausea
    • Vomiting

Home Treatment

Call poison control for appropriate treatment information. If malathion is on skin, wash area thoroughly for at least 15 minutes.

Discard all contaminated clothing as hazardous waste through the appropriate agencies. Wear protective gloves when touching contaminated clothing.

Before Calling Emergency

Determine the following information:

  • Patient's age, weight, and condition
  • Name of the product (ingredients and strengths, if known)
  • Time it was swallowed
  • Amount swallowed

Poison Control, or a local emergency number

The National Poison Control Center (1-800-222-1222) can be called from anywhere in the United States. This national hotline number will let you talk to experts in poisoning. They will give you further instructions.

This is a free and confidential service. All local poison control centers in the United States use this national number. You should call if you have any questions about poisoning or poison prevention. It does NOT need to be an emergency. You can call for any reason, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Take the container with you to the hospital, if possible.

See: Poison control center - emergency number

What to expect at the emergency room

The health care provider will measure and monitor the patient's vital signs, including temperature, pulse, breathing rate, and blood pressure. Blood and urine tests will be done. The patient may receive:

  • Breathing help, including artificial respiration
  • Fluids through a vein (IV)
  • Medicine (antidote) to reverse the effect of the poison
  • Tube through the mouth into the stomach to wash out the stomach (gastric lavage) -- if vomiting has not occurred
  • Washing of the skin (irrigation) and eyes, perhaps every few hours for several days

Expectations (prognosis)

Patients who continue to improve over the first 4 to 6 hours (after receiving medical treatment) usually recover. Prolonged treatment often is needed to reverse the poisoning, including intensive care hospitalization and long-term therapy. Some toxicity may persist for weeks or months, or even longer.

References

Toxicological Profile for Malathion. Atlanta, GA: Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR); 2003.

Robey WC III, Meggs WJ. Insecticides, herbicides, rodenticides. In: Tintinalli JE, Kelen GD, Stapczynski JS, Ma OJ, Cline DM, eds. Emergency Medicine: A Comprehensive Study Guide. 6th ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 2004:chap 182.

Aaron CK. Pesticides. In: Marx J, ed. Rosen’s Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 6th ed. St Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2006:chap 161.

Revision

Last reviewed 8/3/2011 by Eric Perez, MD, Department of Emergency Medicine, St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center, New York, NY. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

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