Poison shrub warning after Limpopo kids are hospitalised

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Scientists have issued a warning about a shrub common in at least three of South Africa’s provinces after four children were poisoned by its seeds, reports The Times.

The children‚ aged between two and six‚ were playing in Limpopo when they ate the seeds of the Jatropha curcas‚ also known as physic nuts‚ after picking them from a branch hanging over a fence.

Within two hours all of them were rushed to hospital suffering abdominal pain‚ nausea‚ vomiting‚ diarrhoea and a burning sensation in the throat.

Invasive plant expert Claude Moshobane said: “The patients were treated with intravenous hydration and anti-emetic medication and the symptoms resolved with 12-14 hours.”

However‚ the two-year-old was kept in hospital for a week with prolonged diarrhoea.

Jatropha curcas‚ found mainly in Limpopo‚ Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal‚ is a drought-resistant perennial widely used to form hedges‚ and farmers are being encouraged to grow it as a source of biodiesel.

But Moshobane‚ from the South African National Biodiversity Institute‚ said the plant – native to Central and South America – should be considered a noxious weed.

“The increased interest and cultivation of (the plant) will eventually increase the likelihood of accidental poisoning of children‚ particularly those in rural areas‚” he said.

Moshobane and Cheryllyn Wium‚ from the poison information centre at Tygerberg Hospital in Cape Town‚ said: “We urge municipal agencies to discourage the use of highly toxic plants as hedges or in gardening.”

The semi-evergreen shrub, Jatropha curcas is native to Central and South America, but now occurs worldwide. Four children suffered severe symptoms of abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting after ingesting the seeds of J. curcas. These cases support the listing of J. curcas as a noxious weed. As a result of this, and a few other incidents, municipal authorities are urged to discourage the use of highly toxic plants such as J. curcas for hedges and garden plants, and to monitor the occurrence of such species. We present a case report about J. curcas poisoning.

M C Moshobane, C Wium, L V Mokgola

The Times report
South African Journal of Child Health abstract

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