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About SickKids

March 10, 2017

Could a recall actually protect kids from swallowing dangerous magnets?

SickKids researchers examine whether a cross-country recall of mini-magnets led to a reduction in emergency room visits

X-rays show a young child who swallowed three small magnets. Surgery was needed to remove the magnets.
X-rays show a young child who swallowed three small magnets. Surgery was needed to remove the magnets.

TORONTO – Desk magnet sets, consisting of over a hundred small spherical magnets, were all the rage about six years ago. Though marketed as ‘adult desk toys’, they made their way into the hands of children across the country and proved to be a danger to curious children who ingested them. These tiny magnets are 10 times more powerful than standard fridge magnets and could attract each other through loops of the gastrointestinal tract, could damage or puncture the bowel or stomach wall, and could potentially lead to death.

Eliminating this threat to kids was no child’s play as visits to emergency rooms increased significantly and many of those children needed surgery or invasive procedures. After physicians urged consumer safety and government organizations across the globe to use their regulatory powers to restrict availability of these products, Health Canada issued a product recall in 2013.

A study led by Dr. Daniel Rosenfield, Staff Physician in Emergency Medicine at The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) published in the March 10 online issue of The Journal of Pediatrics, set out to examine whether the recall led to a reduction in harm.

The researchers examined patient records for magnet-related injuries and compared data from two years before the mandatory recall (2011 and 2012) with data from two years after the recall (2014 and 2015). They found that there was a significant decrease in multiple mini-magnet ingestion following the mandatory product recall. From 2011 to 2012, there were 22 cases of multiple magnet ingestions leading to six operations and nine endoscopic procedures. In contrast, in the two years after the ban (2014 and 2015), there were only five cases of multiple magnet ingestion; one child required an operation and four required endoscopy.

“This study supports the recall’s effectiveness and should bolster efforts to keep it in place in jurisdictions where it is being appealed,” says Rosenfield. “More broadly, the result provides general evidence of a recall helping to decrease further harm from a product with potential hazard.”

Rosenfield and his colleagues were instrumental in collecting and presenting injury data to Health Canada to help prompt a recall. They published a case study in the March 2013 issue of the Canadian Medical Association Journal.  They applaud Health Canada for acting quickly and using well-crafted legislation to respond to new threats.

The researchers believe that a recall’s effectiveness likely depends of a number of factors including a reduction in the number of new products available to consumers, the return and destruction of existing product and by modifying how consumers use the product through public education and awareness.

“It’s important to note that the reduction has not eliminated cases – many of these products still exist in Canadian consumer households and are easily available online. They are now being sold again in parts of the U.S. so we need to remain vigilant,” says Rosenfield.

This paper is an example of how SickKids is contributing to making Ontario Healthier, Wealthier and Smarter. www.healthierwealthiersmarter.ca.

About The Hospital for Sick Children
The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) is recognized as one of the world’s foremost paediatric health-care institutions and is Canada’s leading centre dedicated to advancing children’s health through the integration of patient care, research and education. Founded in 1875 and affiliated with the University of Toronto, SickKids is one of Canada’s most research-intensive hospitals and has generated discoveries that have helped children globally.  Its mission is to provide the best in complex and specialized child and family-centred care; pioneer scientific and clinical advancements; share expertise; foster an academic environment that nurtures health-care professionals; and champion an accessible, comprehensive and sustainable child health system. SickKids is proud of its vision for Healthier Children. A Better World. For more information, please visit www.sickkids.ca. Follow us on Twitter (@SickKidsNews) and Instagram (@SickKidsToronto).

Media contacts:

Suzanne Gold
The Hospital for Sick Children
416-813-7654, ext. 202059

Matet Nebres
The Hospital for Sick Children