Mr. Yuk is green, Mr. Yuk is mean! The logo and the saying are a part of poison prevention lore. Created in Pittsburgh in 1971 (yes, 2011 is the 40th anniversary of the iconic logo), it was to replace the more traditional poison symbol of the skull and crossbones . . . a symbol that did not deter the little Pittsburgh Pirate fans in the Steel City.
Mr. Yuk quickly developed a wide reach and has recognition value with adults who were children in the 70’s and beyond. However in the age groups most at risk for unintentional poisoning, 18 to 35 months of age, Mr. Yuk had no deterrent effect in this most vulnerable age group. More than one study cast doubt on the efficacy of Mr. Yuk as a deterrent in the 1980’s. Still, it is a symbol representative of poison prevention and poison centers for many.
Fast forward 20 to 30 years. Mr. Yuk is still green and mean, and the Illinois Poison Center continues to receive requests for Mr. Yuk stickers even though the IPC has not stocked them for close to 15 years. A lot has changed in the world of poisoning and the roles that poison centers play in our communities.
In the early 80’s, close to 2 out of 3 poisonings reported to poison centers involved children 5 and under. That number has slowly dropped over time and currently about 1 out of 2 calls involve young patients in this age group. Despite the drop in pediatric calls, poison centers are busier than ever due to the changing nature of calls coming to poison centers and an ever increasing public health service role.
How have things changed?
- Increasing calls from hospital based health care providers requesting treatment information for poisoned adolescents and adults in their care. These severely ill patients can consume the bulk of the emergency center staff time. The IPC has had a 57% increase in such calls in the past 7 years with over 19,000 consults to health care providers in 2010.
- Increasing requests for surveillance and trending of new and emerging public health threats such as food poisoning, K2, Spice, and other emerging drugs of abuse.
- Providing additional medical emergency hotline information services in times of need such as Pandemic Flu lines or serving the states affected by the Gulf oil spill.
The IPC is dedicated to educating the public on poison prevention and poison awareness, especially as we gear up for Illinois Poison Prevention Month in March. Pediatric poisoning, while ever still important, is becoming a smaller part of what we do. As the roles of poison centers evolve, so should its logo. Mr. Yuk was a great logo for the 20th century when 2/3 or more of our work involved children under the age of five. In the 21st century, it does not however fully capture all the roles we now play in our communities and state.