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Acute poisoning in children is still a major public health problem, and represents a frequent cause of admission in emergency departments. We carried out an epidemiological study of poisonings leading to admission to a paediatric emergency care unit (PECU). We analysed data from 2988 children who were admitted to the PECU of Bordeaux, France with acute poisoning from 1989 through 1995. During the 7-year period, the poison exposure numbers decreased slightly from 490 to 382 (6% vs. 3% of total medical emergencies). This represented a mean annual incidence of 1.4 poison exposures per 1000 children younger than 18 years of age and living in Bordeaux and its surroundings. Characteristics of the study population, circumstances of poisoning and substances involved were similar to those previously described. Eighty per cent of children were younger than 5 years of age, presented with a benign course. Forty per cent were not treated and 75% were discharged home either immediately or within 24 hours of admission. Only 1.5% of cases, mainly adolescent girls who attempted suicide, were admitted to a paediatric intensive care unit. Overall mortality rate was 0.33/1000. In children, most cases of acute poisoning are accidental, benign, and mainly attributed to the ingestion of a non-toxic substance. This points to the need for better information of the population on availability of poison control centre calling facilities, in order to decrease the number of admissions to the PECU. Patients suspected of having ingested a potentially dangerous substance can be managed in short-stay observation units, thus avoiding unnecessarily prolonged hospitalization. Acute poisoning in children remains a frequent problem, highlighting the need to develop an education programme on primary prevention in our region.