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Morning rounds: Safe disposal of prescription drugs and malaria

April 29, 2017, 7:37 AM


Anti-abortion leader to be named to health job



Health officials warn of mercury in skin cream

California health officials are warning consumers not to use a face cream because it contains mercury, a chemical that can affect the nervous system and other organs. 

The Mexican-made face cream, sold under the name La Tía Mána and in unlabeled white cold-cream jars, were recently tested and came back positive for high levels of mercury, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) said in a statement on their web site recently.

The facial creams were being sold at flea markets in California, but they can also be purchased online through eBay and on  Facebook. A Twitter feed touted the cream, with one tweet claiming it's "100% natural sin mercurio" — without mercury.

The company's Facebook page advertises the cream as a treatment for acne, freckles and age spots, claiming (in Spanish) that it's "the best cream to remove blemishes and spots on the skin."

Dr. Kenneth Spaeth, chief of occupational and environmental medicine at Northwell Health in New Hyde Park, New York, told CBS News that mercury is used in such products as a skin lightener. This is not the first time health officials have issued such warnings  — just the latest.

"Most of these products are manufactured outside the U.S. Typically it's often intentional in skin creams because mercury has the ability to lighten the skin. It's used for blemishes or skin lightening. Unfortunately its' not commonly labeled," Spaeth said.

Sometimes cosmetic ingredient lists mask mercury under other names.

"Consumers should discontinue use of these products, as well as any skin cream that lists mercury, mercurio, mercurous chloride, cinnabar, or calomel in the ingredients, or is otherwise packaged without any labeling," said the CDPH, noting that so far, there have been no reports of illnesses linked with the products.

Mercury can harm the brain, heart, lungs and other organs. Symptoms of mercury poisoning include irritability, depression, nervousness, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, tremors, shaking or weakness, tingling or numbness in hands, feet or around the mouth. 

"There's always a dose effect, meaning the higher the amount the more harmful," said Spaeth.

Cosmetics that contain mercury can be dangerous even to the families of users, especially pregnant women, nursing mothers and babies and children, says the FDA.  Even breathing the vapors off of someone who is wearing the cream is unhealthy, Spaeth warned.

California has had cases in recent years of women, infants and teens seriously sickened by mercury-containing skin products.

"Even low doses of mercury can have a potential impact on fetal development. Likewise, if children are using it, they are more susceptible to the harmful effects of mercury. While it should be avoided across the board those, those two populations should be very careful," Spaeth said.

A person using the cream might not end up in an emergency room due to acute mercury poisoning, but it may be affecting them, he said.

"This is more subtle and someone may not perceive they've been exposed to mercury but that doesn't mean it's not exerting some harm to you or a


Drug approved for rare disease, too late for one family

"The days are long, but the years are short."

That's how Jennifer and Tracy VanHoutan, the parents of Noah and Laine and Emily, describe what it's like to have a child with Batten disease, a rare and devastating neurological condition that took their son Noah's life last year at age 11.


Noah VanHoutan was a healthy toddler until symptoms of Batten disease began to appear around age 3. 

Noah's Hope

Now a new drug, approved this week by the FDA to treat a form of Batten disease called LINCL, may change the course of the disease for other families whose children struggle with the illness. Brineura is the first and only approved treatment for the illness.

The family fought long and hard to help develop the treatment, even as the window for it to help their own children closed. Dad Tracy traveled the globe, and they raised more than $250,000 to fund clinical trials. The family founded  Noah's Hope , a foundation that will continue working toward a cure.

Laine, now 11, also has LINCL-Batten, a genetic condition which is always fatal. She was diagnosed at age 3, just a few months after her big brother. While it's too late for her to benefit from the drug, her mom Jennifer told CBS Chicago , "Knowing families don't have to watch their children have this devastating decline is more comfort than I can explain."

The VanHoutans originally planned to release a balloon on what would have been their son Noah's 13th birthday this year. Instead, they released the balloon into the sky Thursday, in celebration of winning FDA approval for Brineura (cerliponase alfa is the generic name), an enzyme replacement therapy.

Dr. Emily de los Reyes, director of the Batten Disease Center of Excellence at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, told CBS News that in clinical trials, 85 percent of children taking Brineura showed no decline.

In the U.S., only about 250 children have Batten disease, said de los Reyes, who was involved in the clinical trials.

Children with Batten disease develop normally until about the age of 3, but then devastating symptoms set in.

"Seizures start at approximately 3 to 4 years of age. And there is a combination of language delay and seizures and an abnormal EEG, a brain wave study. As the disease progresses, you lose the ability to walk and by about 5 or 6 years of age, they start to lose their vision," said de las Reyes.

Children with the condition die anywhere from 8 to 12 years of age. 

The first children involved in the drug study – which involved medical centers in the U.S., London, Rome, and Hamburg, Germany – were treated approximately four years ago and their disease has not progressed at the typical rate in a child with Batten.

"They continue to maintain and stabilize. Their seizures are better, which is almost unheard of," she said.

As a physician to families coping with Batten disease, de la Reyes says it takes


NFL fulfills young cancer survivor's wish


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