International Lead Poisoning Prevention Week

25 October 2020

This week is International Lead Poisoning Prevention Week, and SA Health is raising community awareness about the risks of lead exposure from complementary and alternative medicines (CAM). Health practitioners are being reminded to talk with their patients about complementary medicine. Medicines may have been obtained directly from overseas through friends or relatives, or purchased via the internet from international suppliers, and have a higher risk of being contaminated with lead if not manufactured to Australian standards or regulated by the TGA.

There have been three cases of high blood lead levels and related symptoms (one requiring hospitalisation for treatment) in SA over the past two years where consumption of complementary medicine was the suspected cause.

Many patients will not readily discuss their use of traditional medicines with their doctors if not directly asked. The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) suggest that this reluctance can be because they are uncomfortable about raising the topic fearing a disapproving response or uninformed attitude.

It is possible that people may have turned to complementary medicine to attempt to prevent or treat COVID-19 during this pandemic which may increase their lead exposure risk, especially if bought online from international suppliers.

Consider blood lead testing if exposure is suspected. Symptoms of lead exposure can be relatively non-specific including headaches, abdominal pain, fatigue, anaemia and impaired nerve and renal function.

It is recommended to encourage your patients to talk about their use of complementary medicines, particularly migrants who may use these medicines more frequently. The National Health and Medical Research Council provides a resource to assist clinicians in talking to their patients about complementary medicines.