June 18, 2000
Washington State Health Dept. Warns About Dangerous Mexican Folk
Extremely high levels of lead
Olympia, WA (SafetyAlerts) The Washington state
Department of Health is issuing a warning about the danger of using certain types of
traditional Mexican folk remedies. The remedies, known as azarcón and greta, contain high
levels of lead that can make people who ingest them, especially children, very ill.
The department has learned of a recent case in Walla Walla in which a 2-year-old child was
given one of the remedies for a stomachache. When tested, the child was found to have lead
poisoning with a dangerously high blood lead level of 124 micrograms per deciliter. Levels
of 10 and above are considered high and lead levels over 70 micrograms per deciliter are
considered a medical emergency.
"The level of lead in this childs blood was more than 10 times higher
than what is considered too high," said Marcia Mueller, project manager for the state
lead surveillance program. "This is the highest blood lead level we have seen in the
seven years since the Childhood Blood Lead Registry was established in 1993."
"At this level, there is a potential for permanent brain damage," said Dr.
Maxine Hayes, state health officer. "Fortunately, the childs physician
recognized the signs of lead poisoning, and provided prompt treatment."
The child was hospitalized and a physician was able to determine that the family had given
the child a traditional Mexican folk remedy (remedio casero) called greta. Greta is
sometimes used by Hispanic families as a treatment for stomachache or intestinal illness
(empacho). It is a bright yellow powder that normally contains a very high concentration
of lead. The state public health laboratories tested a sample of this remedy and found
that it contained nearly 80 percent lead. Any amount of lead is poisonous.
Greta is not the only traditional folk remedy used in Washington State that contains lead.
Another was identified earlier this year as the cause of lead poisoning in a 2-year-old
Wenatchee-area child. In that case, the child had been given azarcón, a bright orange
powder that is also known as rueda, coral, Maria Luisa, alarcón, or liga. A sample of the
azarcón was obtained and was found to contain 70 percent lead. Greta and azarcón are
rarely available for sale in our state. In both of these cases, the families brought the
folk remedies with them from Mexico.
Awareness is the key to preventing this kind of lead poisoning. That is why the Department
of Health is preparing outreach materials for health care providers to get the word out
about the dangers of using these traditional folk remedies. Although some folk remedies
may be effective in treating certain health conditions, remedies containing lead are
poisonous and should not be used.
Children who have been given these remedies in the past should visit their health care
provider for a blood lead test. "Its the young children under age six who face
the most serious health effects from exposure to lead," Mueller says. "These are
the children we are most concerned about."
Public interested in finding out more
information about lead poisoning can call the State Department of Health Lead Program toll
free number 1-800 909-9898. There is also more information about lead in folk remedies and
childhood lead poisoning on the state Department of Health website here.
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