DALLAS -- Miniature laundry detergent packets arrived on store shelves in recent months as an alternative to bulky bottles and messy spills. But doctors across the country say children are confusing the tiny, brightly colored packets with candy and swallowing them.

Nearly 250 cases have been reported this year to poison control centers. That's a tiny fraction of the thousands of poisoning calls every year, but doctors are concerned. The symptoms they see in connection with ingesting the packets, such as nausea and breathing problems, are more severe than typical detergent poisoning. No deaths have been reported.

"We're not quite sure why it's happening," said Dr. Kurt Kleinschmidt, a Dallas toxicologist and professor at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. "But we've clearly had some kids who have become much more ill. We look at these pods as being clearly more dangerous than the standard detergent."

Tide, Purex and other manufacturers introduced different versions of the packets earlier this year. The colorfully swirled plastic packets contain a single-use amount of detergent, intended to be dropped into a laundry machine in place of liquid or powder detergent.

Several poison control centers got calls about the packets in March and April, soon after they were introduced in earnest. Texas reported 71 instances of exposure this year. Missouri reported 25 cases related to the packets, and Illinois 26.

Paul Fox, a spokesman for Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble, the parent company of Tide, said Tide was working with poison control centers to make sure parents know more about the risks. -- AP

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