Acne pills: Six teens suffer lead poisoning

2012-09-07 00:00

ACNE sufferers have been alerted to the risk of lead poisoning in a skin preparation available in health shops.

“Lead poisoning can kill you,” said Dr Monica Viathilingum, a paediatrician haematologist.

She is treating six patients in Durban diagnosed with lead poisoning after they took Skintocare acne pills.

The environmental manager of eThekwini Municipality health unit, Tim Houston, said the importer of Skintocare and the municipality had withdrawn the pills from the shelves, but not all have been accounted for.

Houston told The Witness that Skintocare, which is manufactured by Bacfo Pharmaceuticals in India, is mostly distributed in Durban.

The municipality said its investigation had found that there were eight known patients who suffered lead poisoning after taking the pills.

The product has been readily available in health shops.

“The best advice is that if you’ve used the medication, go and get tested,” Houston said.

Viathilingum said her patients were now stable.

She alerted the municipality following several blood tests and similar symptoms among the patients.

“Some were taking two capsules twice a day and have been on them for four months and others for six weeks,” Viathilingum said.

She said lead poisoning could damage the brain, bone marrow, kidneys and gut.

“Lead is quite a heavy metal and when it gets to the brain it destroys brain tissue.”

And treating it is not cheap.

“The treatment is exceptionally expensive and it was imported from New York on a compassionate basis.”

Viathilingum said 10 bottles of treatment capsules, known as Succimer or DMSA, cost R100 000. She said there had been an outbreak of lead poisoning in Nigeria, which had created a shortage of the capsules.

Caron von Bardeleben said her daughter, Emma (14), started taking the pills last year.

She had bought them at a health shop.

She took two pills a day for 14 days and her skin started showing improvements.

Then she took them whenever she had a break-out.

But she later became ill, with nausea, vomiting and fatigue.

Von Bardeleben said she went from “being a healthy child to being unhealthy”.

She spent 18 days in hospital.

“It hasn’t been an easy ride, but Emma is showing signs of improvement.”

Von Bardeleben said she had learnt to be careful when buying medication over the counter.

She said she was worried about how the pills made it to the shelves.

Professor Peter Eagles of the Medicines Control Council (MCC), said inspectors would be sent out to investigate where Skintocare was being sold.

He told The Witness that he doubted the medication was accredited by the MCC.

Eagles said many substances were brought in “in suitcases” and never went through the registration process.

“It’s unethical behaviour.”

He said there were too few people keeping an eye on the market.

He urged consumers to check for an MCC registration number when they bought medicines.

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