Malathion poisoning

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Definition

Malathion is an insecticide, a product used to kill or control bugs. Poisoning may occur if you swallow malathion, handle it without gloves, or do not wash hands your hands soon after touching it. Large amounts can be absorbed through the skin.

This article is for information only. DO NOT use it to treat or manage an actual poison exposure. If you or someone you are with has an exposure, call your local emergency number (such as 911), or your local poison center can be reached directly by calling the national toll-free Poison Help hotline (1-800-222-1222) from anywhere in the United States.

Alternative Names

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

Poisonous Ingredient

Malathion is the poisonous ingredient in these products.

Where Found

Malathion is used in agriculture to kill and control insects on crops and in gardens. The government also uses it to kill mosquitoes in large outdoor areas.

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

Symptoms

Below are symptoms of malathion poisoning in different parts of the body.

Airways and lungs

  • Chest tightness
  • Difficulty breathing
  • No 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 lips and fingernails
  • Sweating

Stomach and gastrointestinal tract

  • Abdominal cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting

Home Care

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

Throw away all contaminated clothing. Follow instructions from the appropriate agencies for getting rid of hazardous waste. Wear protective gloves when touching contaminated clothing.

Before Calling Emergency

Have this information ready:

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

Poison Control

Your local poison center can be reached directly by calling the national toll-free Poison Help hotline (1-800-222-1222) from anywhere in the United States. 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.

What to Expect at the Emergency Room

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

People with malathion poisoning will likely be treated by first responders (firefighters, paramedics) who arrive when you call your local emergency number. These responders will decontaminate the person by removing the person's clothes and washing them down with water. The responders will wear protective gear. If the person is not decontaminated before getting to the hospital, emergency room personnel will decontaminate the person and provide other treatment.

The health care provider at the hospital will measure and monitor the person's vital signs, including temperature, pulse, breathing rate, and blood pressure. The person may receive:

  • Blood and urine tests
  • Breathing support, including oxygen, tube through the mouth into the throat, and breathing machine
  • Chest x-ray
  • CT (computerized tomography) scan (advanced brain imaging)
  • EKG (electrocardiogram or heart tracing)
  • Intravenous fluids (through a vein)
  • Medicine to reverse the effects of the poison
  • Tube placed down the nose and into the stomach (sometimes)
  • Washing of the skin (irrigation) and eyes, perhaps every few hours for several days

Outlook (Prognosis)

People who continue to improve in the first 4 to 6 hours after receiving medical treatment usually recover. Prolonged treatment often is needed to reverse the poisoning. This may include staying in the hospital intensive care unit and getting long-term therapy. Some effects of the poison may last for weeks or months, or even longer.

References

Cannon RD, Ruha A-M. Insecticides, herbicides, and rodenticides. In: Adams JG. Emergency Medicine. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2013:chap 146.

Rhee JW. Insecticides. In: Marx JA, ed. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 163.

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

Version Info

  • Last reviewed on 7/11/2015
  • Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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