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Pesticides are used to prevent, destroy, or reduce the spread of pests. Though often misunderstood to refer only to insecticides, the term pesticide also applies to herbicides (against weeds), bactericides (against bacteria), fungicides (against fungi) and various other substances used to control pests.

It is important that pesticides are only used when necessary, and in accordance with the directions on the label. When exposed to high levels of pesticides, humans can be harmed or poisoned.

If a person has been poisoned by pesticides, you should call the Poisons Information Centre 24 hours a day from anywhere in Australia on 13 11 26 or call triple zero (000) in an emergency.

Symptoms of pesticide poisoning can be mild or severe. Mild symptoms include headache, feeling tired and weak, dizziness, nausea or diarrhoea, sore joints, or irritated skin, eyes, nose and throat.

In more severe cases, pesticide poisoning can cause:

  • severe nausea
  • persistent vomiting or diarrhoea
  • change in appetite
  • intense thirst
  • abdominal pain or cramping
  • excessive sweating or salivation
  • pinpoint pupils
  • lack of muscle control or coordination, uncontrollable muscle twitches
  • weakness
  • mood changes
  • confusion
  • breathing difficulties or increased rate of breathing
  • rapid heart rate
  • convulsions
  • fever
  • unconsciousness

Follow the links below to find information about pesticides and other forms of pest control. 

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: July 2018

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