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Lead poisoning in United States-bound refugee children: Thailand-Burma border, 2009

Author/s: Mitchell T, Jentes E, Ortega L, Scalia Sucosky M, Jefferies T, Bajcevic P, Parr V, Jones W, Brown MJ, Painter J
Language: English
Publication Type: Scientific Report (Journal)(External)

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Background: Elevated blood lead levels lead to permanent neurocognitive sequelae in children. Resettled refugee children in the United States are considered at high risk for elevated blood lead levels, but the prevalence of and risk factors for elevated blood lead levels before resettlement have not been described.

Methods: Blood samples from children aged 6 months to 14 years from refugee camps in Thailand were tested for lead and hemoglobin. Sixty-seven children with elevated blood lead levels (venous ≥10 µg/dL) or undetectable (capillary <3.3 µg/dL) blood lead levels participated in a case-control study.

Results: Of 642 children, 33 (5.1%) had elevated blood lead levels. Children aged <2 years had the highest prevalence (14.5%). Among children aged <2 years included in a case-control study, elevated blood lead levels risk factors included hemoglobin <10 g/dL, exposure to car batteries, and taking traditional medicines.

Conclusions: The prevalence of elevated blood lead levels among tested US-bound Burmese refugee children was higher than the current US prevalence, and was especially high among children <2 years old. Refugee children may arrive in the United States with elevated blood lead levels. A population-specific understanding of preexisting lead exposures can enhance post-arrival lead-poisoning prevention efforts, based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations for resettled refugee children, and can lead to remediation efforts overseas.

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