Rosary Peas send toddler to the hospital, family urges parents to check out their backyards

More toxic than Ricin

LAKE WORTH, Fla. - They're colorful and decorative, but also poisonous.

Rosary peas are common in many South Florida backyards, but one family says they put their 2-year-old in the hospital.

They're bright red with a black spot on one end and grow in clusters on vines.

Inger Lewis says she knew they were poisonous, but never realized just how poisonous until her 2-year-old granddaughter, Bethany, ate one on Sunday in Lake Worth.

"I'm just very thankful that she is very vocal and came in and said 'I ate berries'. Then, my son goes 'can you show me what berries you ate, Bethany?' "  Lewis explained.

Lewis said they took Bethany to her pediatrician, who also did not know how toxic the peas are. She was rushed to the emergency room.

"Started her on an IV and gave her charcoal," said Lewis.

The Palm Beach County Health Department says the toxin inside the pea, Abrin, causes dangerous symptoms that can be fatal within days.

Officials with poison control say just one seed can kill an adult. Abrin is more toxic than ricin, according to the health department.

After eight hours in the hospital, Bethany is doing fine. It was a fearful day for her mother. "She thought it might be the last 8 hours she'd get to spend with her daughter," explained Lewis.

Now she wants more parents to know about rosary peas. "You need to be aware of what's in your backyard."

Rosary peas are not dangerous to touch. If swallowed without breaking the shell, they are also not dangerous. If the tough shell is crushed, that's when the toxin is released.

Rosary peas are not native to Florida, but have spread through the area over time. They're in more than 20 Florida counties.

They're also known to be used to make colorful jewelry.

If you suspect your children or pets have consumed a rosary pea, there is not an antidote for Abrin, but doctors can treat the symptoms.


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