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Toxicol Rev. 2005;24(2):107-13.

Poisoning due to pyrethrins.

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  • 1National Poisons Information Service (Birmingham Centre), City Hospital, UK.


The pyrethrins have a long and fascinating history. They were derived from dried chrysanthemum flower heads that were found to have pesticidal activity centuries ago. They comprise a complex mixture of six main chemicals. Commercial formulations usually contain piperonyl butoxide, which inhibits metabolic degradation of the active ingredients. Pyrethrins are readily absorbed from the gut and respiratory tract but poorly absorbed through skin. The active components are rapidly and extensively metabolised in the liver. Pyrethrins probably act on sodium channels resulting in nervous system overactivity. The possibility that they also induce hypersensitivity, which may be fatal when the respiratory tract is involved, has been debated for many years. A few clinical reports support this suggestion but the limited epidemiological evidence available is against it. The number of reports of toxicity caused by pyrethrins has greatly decreased over recent years. The pyrethrins are generally of low acute toxicity but convulsions may occur if substantial amounts are ingested. Two deaths from acute asthma have been attributed to pyrethrins and clinical reports suggest that they may also cause a variety of forms of dermatitis. Ocular exposure has resulted in corneal erosions. Management of pyrethrin toxicity is supportive and symptomatic.

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