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Home / News / Health / Health officials warn of potential lead poisoning from ointment

Health officials warn of potential lead poisoning from ointment

by Staff
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The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health warned residents Thursday not to use a Vietnamese herbal ointment because it contains lead and can be fatal.

A woman in Sacramento died last month from severe lead poisoning that occurred after she used a product called “Cao Bôi Trĩ Cây Thầu Dầu,” or Castor Oil Hemorrhoid Extract, which officials said has been marketed as a hemorrhoid treatment “with a suggested intra-rectal application.”

The woman bought the product on Facebook, and a friend or relative in Vietnam mailed it to the United States. Officials said it was unclear if the ointment is available for purchase in “informal marketplaces” in the U.S.  

The California Department of Public Health had the ointment tested and found it contains 4% lead, or 39,000 parts per million, which is “a highly dangerous amount of lead,” officials said. Any amount of lead exposure can cause lifelong learning, behavioral, reproductive, cardiovascular and other health problems.

Lead poisoning can be difficult to identify because after exposure, symptoms may not be visible and can vary from person to person, according to health officials. Symptoms are tied to the level of lead in a product, how often it is used and for how long.

Mild symptoms are fatigue, irritability or mood swings, difficulty concentrating and difficulty sleeping; moderate symptoms are muscle and joint pain, nausea, decrease appetite, stomach cramps, constipation and diarrhea, feeling tired or sleepy, headache and tremors; severe symptoms are intense stomach cramps, a pins-and-needles sensation, tingling, burning or numbness in hands, seizures, coma and death.

The county and state health departments urged anyone who used the ointment to:

  1. Stop using the ointment immediately and contact your health provider to get a blood lead test, called a venous blood test.
  2. Place the jar of ointment in a sealed plastic bag and contact the California Department of Public Health at 510-620-3620 or email toxoutbreak@cdph.ca.gov.
  3. Get a blood lead test for any other household members, especially children, if they have been exposed to the ointment — kids are especially vulnerable to lead poisoning.

Officials provided a letter online with instructions for blood testing that anyone who has used the ointment can take to their health care provider. It’s available for downloading in English or Vietnamese.

Information and answers to questions about childhood lead poisoning prevention in LA County are available by calling 800-524-5323 or at getyourchildtested.com.

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