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Minn. child falls ill after chewing detergent packet

FARGO -- A 1-year-old Hitterdal, Minn., boy is being treated at Sanford Children's Hospital in Fargo after chewing on a laundry detergent packet that his family believes had insufficient packaging to protect children.

Alexander Rohde remained in the hospital's Pediatric Intensive Care Unit Tuesday, where he had been since Saturday, the day he chewed on a Tide Pod, a small, individual detergent packet.

His mother, Michelle Klienschmidt, said after eating just part of the packet, her son quickly began suffering from nausea and diarrhea and had difficulty breathing.

She said the boy was transported to Sanford, where his symptoms worsened and a tube was inserted to help him breathe.

Klienschmidt was on watch at the hospital Tuesday along with her sisters, Angie Eggert and Marsha Geray, and their mother, Cindy Hieb.

Geray said she has been researching detergent pods, which have been on the market about two years, and she said she was struck by how attractive they are to children and how severe the damage can be when small children are exposed to them. At least one child, a 7-month-old in Florida earlier this year, reportedly died after swallowing a detergent packet.

Geray is planning a "Facebook blast" to alert people to the dangers of the packets and advise parents to call 911 if an incident occurs, instead of trying to follow advice provided on product packaging, which she said can waste time and may make matters worse.

Geray said in the case of her nephew, milk was given as advised on the package label, but the boy's nausea was so intense the milk created the potential for aspiration and lung problems.

Her sister agreed.

"We are not bashing Tide," Eggert said. "We are here to get things changed."

Christopher Tiongson, a pediatrician with Sanford Children's Southwest Clinic in Fargo, said keeping any sort of chemicals out of the reach of kids is important.

But he said single-load packets "are probably more dangerous than typical laundry detergent" because they are "highly concentrated and dissolve quickly."

Tiongson also said while the packaging is "designed to be interesting to adults," they're appealing to small children.

"Kids get into stuff all the time. But these are particularly colorful and interesting looking. They kind of mimic candy, or a food item, so kids are drawn to them," he said.

Tracey Long, communications manager for Tide, said Tuesday the company closely monitors detergent exposure incidents, and 93 percent of cases involving single-dose packets result in minor effects or none.

Long said detergent packets are household cleaners, and care should always be taken to keep such chemicals out of small hands. She added the company is working to help families do that by making it tougher to open Tide Pod containers, which now have three latches.

"We care deeply about children," she said. "It's the foundation of everything we do."

Kirk Hughes, education director for the Hennepin Regional Poison Center in Minneapolis, which serves as the poison center for Minnesota, North Dakota and Minnesota, said statistics indicate poisoning numbers have not changed dramatically since packet detergents hit the market.

What appears to have changed, he said, is the severity of illness caused when some children are exposed to the new products, compared to the liquid and powder detergents that were the mainstay of laundry rooms in the past.

Why that is the case in some situations remains a mystery, he said.

"In a very small percentage of the time, we're seeing kids that have what we call rapid CNS -- or central nervous system depression -- within the first 15 to 30 minutes, which means they get extremely drowsy to the point some children can't support their own airway," Hughes said.

He said poison control officials are also seeing an "inordinate amount of profuse vomiting," and more eye exposure because packets can squirt detergent when bitten into.

"Right now, the North American Congress of Clinical Toxicology is going on in Atlanta and this will be the second year we're visiting this (issue) very heavily," Hughes said.

In May 2012, the American Association of Poison Control Centers alerted the public to the fact children 5 and younger were becoming very ill after exposure to single-load laundry packets sold by a variety of manufacturers.

The association's website reports that more than 6,700 children 5 and younger were exposed to single-load laundry packets of various brands between Jan. 1 and Aug. 31 of this year.

The association announced in July that Procter & Gamble, maker of Tide Pods, had redesigned packaging of the product and the association urged other manufacturers to do the same. Tide Pods were originally packaged in colorful forms that came in clear tubs critics said looked like candy jars. They are now packaged in opaque containers.

In the statement it issued in July, the American Association of Poison Control Centers said new packaging alone won't protect young children.

"It's also important for parents and caregivers always to keep laundry detergents locked up high and out of the reach of children," the AAPCC said.