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Association of Blood Lead Level with Neurological Features in 972 Children Affected by an Acute Severe Lead Poisoning Outbreak in Zamfara State, Northern NigeriaIn 2010, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) investigated reports of high mortality in young children in Zamfara State, Nigeria, leading to confirmation of villages with widespread acute severe lead poisoning. In a retrospective analysis, we aimed to determine venous blood lead level (VBLL) thresholds and risk factors for encephalopathy using MSF programmatic data from the first year of the outbreak response.
Outbreak of Fatal Childhood Lead Poisoning Related to Artisanal Gold Mining in Northwestern Nigeria, 2010.Background: In May 2010, a team of national and international organizations was assembled to investigate children's deaths due to lead poisoning in villages in northwestern Nigeria. Objectives: To determine the cause of the childhood lead poisoning outbreak, investigate risk factors for child mortality, and identify children aged <5 years in need of emergency chelation therapy for lead poisoning. Methods: We administered a cross-sectional, door-to-door questionnaire in two affected villages, collected blood from children aged 2-59 months, and soil samples from family compounds. Descriptive and bivariate analyses were performed with survey, blood-lead, and environmental data. Multivariate logistic regression techniques were used to determine risk factors for childhood mortality. Results: We surveyed 119 family compounds. One hundred eighteen of 463 (25%) children aged <5 years had died in the last year. We tested 59% (204/345) of children, aged <5 years, and all were lead poisoned (≥10 µg/dL); 97% (198/204) of children had blood-lead levels ≥45 µg/dL, the threshold for initiating chelation therapy. Gold ore was processed inside two-thirds of the family compounds surveyed. In multivariate modeling significant risk factors for death in the previous year from suspected lead poisoning included: the child's age, the mother performing ore-processing activities, community well as primary water source, and the soil-lead concentration in the compound. Conclusion: The high levels of environmental contamination, percentage of children aged <5 years with elevated blood-lead levels (97%, >45 µg/dL), and incidence of convulsions among children prior to death (82%) suggest that most of the recent childhood deaths in the two surveyed villages were caused by acute lead poisoning from gold ore-processing activities. Control measures included environmental remediation, chelation therapy, public health education, and control of mining activities.