Repeat Lead Tests Advised For Children, Pregnant Women, And Breastfeeding Moms

Repeat Lead Tests

According to a warning issued by the FDA on May 17, 2017, certain expecting moms, new moms, and children who have previously had a blood lead test may need to have the test repeated. Certain types of lead tests manufactured by Magellan Diagnostics were found to be faulty and may have provided inaccurate results. If your child was younger than 6 years of age or you were pregnant or breastfeeding at the time of the warning (May 17, 2017), you should contact your healthcare provider to determine if retesting is necessary. The FDA believes that these inaccurate tests may have first occurred in 2014, meaning that some children and pregnant women may have high amounts of lead in their blood even if their blood lead levels were previously tested and considered to be within an acceptable range.

Blood lead tests are used to measure lead levels in certain expecting moms, breastfeeding moms, and children who are determined to be at risk for lead exposure. The CDC estimates that about half a million children aged 1 to 5 years old have blood lead levels that are higher than 5 µg/dL. Above this level, the CDC recommends further lead testing because of the dangers of lead exposure.

Lead poisoning can cause serious problems during pregnancy and in young children. Lead is a metal that is present in soil, water, air, and food. You may not be aware that you or your child have been exposed to lead particles because you can’t taste, smell, or see them. Children who are under the age of 6 years are particularly susceptible to the dangers of lead. Lead exposure can cause vomiting, irritability, stomach pain, weight loss, problems with development, impaired mental functioning, hearing loss, and in severe cases, death. Lead exposure can also be very dangerous to expecting moms and their babies. During pregnancy, lead crosses the placenta and can cause serious health problems in your baby. Lead exposure in pregnancy can cause your baby to have problems with brain development or to be born at a low birth weight. It can also result in premature birth or miscarriage, and can cause high blood pressure in expecting moms.

You should take special precautions to avoid lead exposure if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Your doctor will screen you during your first prenatal appointment to determine if you have any risk factors for exposure to lead.  If you have at least one risk factor, your doctor will perform a blood test to measure the levels of lead in your blood.

Risk factors for lead exposure in pregnancy or breastfeeding:

  • Working in an industry that exposes you to lead (battery manufacturing, lead manufacturing, ship building, plastic manufacturing, ammunition production, or paint manufacturing) or living with someone exposed to lead
  • Living near a source of lead, such as battery recycling plants, smelters, or lead mines
  • Recently moving from a country or other residency with high lead contamination
  • Cooking, storing, or serving food in lead-glazed pottery
  • Eating or mouthing nonfood products that might be contaminated by lead
  • Using imported cosmetics or certain imported foods, spices, herbs, or herbal medicines that may be contaminated with lead
  • Remodeling or renovating older homes (built before 1978); disturbing lead paint (tearing out walls or scraping paint from walls), making lead dust, repainting areas that have peeling paint, cleaning up paint chips or dust, or living in a house that is undergoing remodeling
  • Participating in certain activities that may expose you to lead, such as producing stained glass or making pottery with lead glazes or paints
  • Drinking lead-contaminated water
  • Having a history of lead exposure
  • Living with someone who has a high lead level

It is important to take additional safeguards if you are a new mom or have a young child. Lead-based paint and dust are very dangerous sources of lead for your child and are found in many houses built prior to 1978. If you think that your house may have lead paint, you can help protect your child by cleaning up any peeling or chipped paint with water. Remove dust from floors, windows, window sills, and any other horizontal surface with a wet-mop or wet-wipes every 2-3 weeks. You can also remove your shoes before entering your house to prevent bringing in any lead-contaminated soil.

Your child also can become exposed to lead by crawling and playing on the floor, and by putting hands or other objects in his or her mouth. Try to wash your child’s hands regularly, especially before he or she touches any food, and wash your hands before preparing food for your child. It is important to also wash your child’s toys regularly because these can become contaminated with dust. Prevent your child from playing on areas with bare soil when outdoors. Cover the area by planting grass seed or placing mulch or wood chips over soil. If possible, you can also provide your child with a sandbox to play in.

The CDC provides additional guidance to protect you and your child from lead exposure. You can also find more information from the Environmental Protection Agency.

Brittani Zurek
Dr. Brittani Zurek earned her Doctor of Pharmacy from the University at Buffalo School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. She currently works as a medical writer, specializing in disease management and medication therapy. Brittani also writes continuing education modules for healthcare professionals. She enjoys hiking and spending time outdoors in her free time.

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