Mercury poisonings linked to cosmetic cream from Mexico

SAN ANTONIO (Sept. 2, 2011) — The South Texas Poison Center is warning against use of a cosmetic cream from Mexico that is linked to an outbreak of inorganic mercury exposures and poisonings, mostly in towns along the Texas-Mexico border.

At least 20 cases have been reported to state health officials, who are investigating along with the South Texas Poison Center’s team of certified specialists. Most cases involve teenagers or young women, but infants have been exposed through contact with caretakers using the cream.

Most cases so far have been reported in border towns, but they could soon appear in other places, including San Antonio, said Miguel Fernández, M.D., director of the South Texas Poison Center and professor of surgery in the School of Medicine of The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.

Dr. Fernández encourages health care providers to report all confirmed or suspected cases to the South Texas Poison Center. Members of the public can also call 800-222-1222 for help.

The poisonings are associated with an over-the-counter product called “Crema Aguamary,” which is manufactured in the Mexican state of Sinaloa and not approved for use in the United States. It is marketed as an anti-aging cream, skin lightener and acne treatment.

Tests on various Aguamary formulations have found them to contain up to 8 percent inorganic mercury by weight. Test samples were shown to have inorganic mercury concentrations of up to 131,000 parts per million. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration restricts cosmetic products that contain more than trace amounts of 1 part per million.

Mercury poisoning can cause headaches, tingling or numbness of the skin, weakness, seizures, tremors and altered mental states. Several patients have complained only of abdominal pain. Severe exposures can damage the gastrointestinal tract, kidneys and nervous system.

Dr. Fernández is board certified in emergency medicine and medical toxicology and is a fellow of the American College of Medical Toxicology and the American College of Emergency Physicians. He sees patients through UT Medicine San Antonio, the faculty medical practice of the School of Medicine at the UT Health Science Center.

One of six regional poison centers in the state, the South Texas Poison Center is the designated center for a 53,000-square-mile, 47-county area in South-Central and South Texas. Its territory spans from the Hill Country and the Gulf Coast to the Texas-Mexico border.

The center is available to the public 24 hours a day, 365 days a year at 800-222-1222. Service is free and confidential and available in English and Spanish.

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