Woman in Sacramento poisoned by a skin lightening cream. The woman went into a coma due to poisoning by Methylmercury. This is the first reported case in the United States regarding this matter.
The woman in question is 47 years old. In July 2019 she visited the doctor complaining with a burning sensation in her face and weakness in her arm. Two weeks after she returned with a blurring vision and difficulties to speak.
She was admitted to a hospital at the University of California in San Francisco. Her condition improved to agitated delirium according to Dr. Paul Blanc, from the UCSF Division of Occupation and Environmental Medicine and the California Poison Control System.
Her body contained abnormally high levels of Methylmercury. This chemical is highly toxic and can cause permanent damages to the nervous system. Reports indicate that her lesions are probably permanent
She was using the cream for years.
Her family informed the doctors that she was using the cream for years. Twice a day during the last seven years. She had bought the cream Pond’s Rejuveness in Mexico. The cream had been contaminated with Methylmercury after its manufacturing.
She acquired the cream trough friends. This product is used for skin lightening and also to remove spots and wrinkles.
Specialists tested the cream and founded a little over 1.2% of Methylmercury. This means 12.000 part per million of Methylmercury. It is illegal in the United States to sell skin creams that contain over 1ppm of mercury.
Most of the skin lightening cream contain inorganic mercury but in this case the patient used a cream that contained organic mercury, which is much more toxic according to Dr. Blanc. The damage inflicted by this chemical over the nervous system often gets worse after the patients stop using the polluted product.
Toxicity in the central nervous system is the signature symptom of poisoning by organic mercury and it usually appears weeks even months after stop using the polluted product. Once it manifests it progresses very quickly and it often gets worse despite removing further contact with the product.
Since the publication of the CDC report the patient was not yet able to speak or take care of herself, doctors had to put a feeding tube for nutrition purposes
Over 60 cases in the last 10 years
According to the California Public Health Department there have been over 60 poisoning cases in California during the last decade all related to homemade or no labels skin care creams. All of them however contained less toxic form of mercury compared to the Sacramento woman case. Mercury poisoning occurs more often due to shellfish consumption.
Most of the contaminated creams were bought in the streets, through family and friends or brought from Mexico. They are often packed in plastic recipients with no labels or are handmade often claiming to eliminate wrinkles and spots
Some of these confiscated creams contained up to 21% of mercury. Poisoning with mercury is usually accompanied by a wide range of neurological symptoms such as shaking, anxiety, numbing, tingling and usually high levels of protein in the urine.
In children the most common symptoms are pink hands and feet. Their skin gets scaly. Excessive salivation, irritation and cramps and muscular weakness.
Mercury is still potentially dangerous by indirect exposure: children and babies that were poisoned simply had had contact with family members that had used the cream contaminated with mercury.
Avoid creams with no aluminum paper or with homemade labels.
Public health authorities advise consumers to find protective sheets beneath the caps of skin care creams, buying creams from known retail sellers and avoid those with homemade labels or with no labels at all.
Doctors whose patients use altered or imported skin care creams to take samples of them for testing.