Child retarded by Pesticide Poisoning

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Poisoning Case May Lead to Test for Chemical Exposure

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - A 7-year-old boy ended up with mild mental retardation after being exposed to chemicals in infancy, researchers report. A closer analysis revealed that the boy had antibodies -- immune system proteins -- in his blood that recognized proteins found in nerve cells, which may have been at least partly related to the neurological damage.

The finding may help determine if other people with exposure to the chemicals, which are known as organophosphates and found in insecticides and industrial chemicals, are indeed experiencing problems because of the exposure.

Some Gulf War veterans have similar neurological problems as the boy, and may have been exposed to organophosphorus compounds, according to Dr. Mohamed B. Abou-Donia, of Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina.

In a report in the March issue of Environmental Epidemiology and Toxicology, Abou-Donia, and a colleague describe the case of a child who was exposed to organophosphorus compounds by two different methods. Around 12 months of age he played in dirt contaminated with roofing tar -- ending up with tar on his skin and hair -- and around the same time an insecticide was applied several times in his home.

Although he began walking at 8 months of age, he began to lose the skill over time. When the child was 14 months old, he became unsteady on his feet, his speech regressed and he became irritable. Although a pediatrician's examination at 16 months of age showed no neurological problems, by 18 months he was unable to walk.

By 20 months, he had weak neck muscles and poor head control. Although his symptoms improved slightly by 26 months of age, he required special school placement by the time he was 7 years old.

The researchers tested blood from the boy and four members of his family to look for antibodies that recognized three proteins found inside nerve cells. Such antibodies can be found in healthy individuals, but they are usually more common with age. Abnormalities of such proteins are associated with other neurological disorders, such as Alzheimer's disease.

The boy was found to have high levels of antibodies against two of the proteins, while family members had lower levels of antibodies to one or both of the proteins. Testing for the presence of such antibodies ``may provide a useful marker'' for the diagnosis of organophosphorus-related neurological problems and ``may help in the development of appropriate treatment,'' the authors conclude.

In an interview, Abou-Donia noted that he is currently working on a study to see if patients with Gulf War syndrome also have such antibodies to the proteins.

SOURCE: Environmental Epidemiology and Toxicology 2000;2:37-41.

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