High lethality and minimal variation after acute self-poisoning with carbamate insecticides in Sri Lanka – implications for global suicide prevention

Thomas Lamb, Liza R. Selvarajah, Fahim Mohamed, Shaluka Jayamanne, Indika Gawarammana, Ahmed Mostafa, Nicholas A. Buckley, Michael S. Roberts & Michael Eddleston

Abstract

High lethality and minimal variation after acute self-poisoning with carbamate insecticides in Sri Lanka – implications for global suicide prevention – Clinical Toxicology –

Background: Highly hazardous organophosphorus (OP) insecticides are responsible for most pesticide poisoning deaths. As they are removed from agricultural practice, they are often replaced by carbamate insecticides of perceived lower toxicity. However, relatively little is known about poisoning with these insecticides.
Methods: We prospectively studied 1288 patients self-poisoned with carbamate insecticides admitted to six Sri Lankan hospitals. Clinical outcomes were recorded for each patient and plasma carbamate concentration measured in a sample to confirm the carbamate ingested.
Findings: Patients had ingested 3% carbofuran powder (719), carbosulfan EC25 liquid (25% w/v, 389), or fenobucarb EC50 liquid (50% w/v, 127) formulations, carbamate insecticides of WHO Toxicity Classes Ib, II, and II, respectively. Intubation and ventilation was required for 183 (14.2%) patients while 71 (5.5%) died. Compared with carbofuran, poisoning with carbosulfan or fenobucarb was associated with significantly higher risk of death [carbofuran 2.2%; carbosulfan 11.1%, OR 5.5 (95% CI 3.0–9.8); fenobucarb 6.3%, OR 3.0 (1.2–7.1)] and intubation [carbofuran 6.1%; carbosulfan 27.0%, OR 5.7 (3.9–8.3); fenobucarb 18.9%, OR 3.6 (2.1–6.1)]. The clinical presentation and cause of death did not differ markedly between carbamates. Median time to death was similar: carbofuran 42.3 h (IQR 5.5–67.3), carbosulfan 21.3 h (11.5–71.3), and fenobucarb 25.3 h (17.3–72.1) (p = 0.99); no patients showed delayed onset of toxicity akin to the intermediate syndrome seen after OP insecticide poisoning. For survivors, median duration of intubation was 67.8 h (IQR 27.5–118.8) with no difference in duration between carbamates. Reduced GCS at presentation was associated with worse outcome although some patients with carbosulfan died after presentation with normal GCS.
Conclusions: We did not find carbamate insecticide self-poisoning to vary markedly according to the carbamate ingested although the case fatality varied according to the concentration and formulation of the insecticide. Carbamate poisoning did not appear to be much less toxic than poisoning with some liquid OP insecticide formulations, e.g., chlorpyrifos EC40, that we have previously noted in these same hospitals (Lancet 2005, 366:1452–1459; QJM 2006, 99:513–522). Replacement of WHO Class II Toxicity OP insecticides in agriculture with high-strength liquid carbamate formulations may not substantially reduce case fatality after pesticide poisoning and, therefore, global suicide rates.