Why it’s so important to get a blood lead screening, especially in children


SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (News4Utah) The Utah Lead Coalition is on a mission to get the word out in our state about the importance of getting blood screenings for lead, especially in children. Dr. Claudia Fruin, a pediatrician and Chairman of the Utah Lead Coalition, joined Nicea DeGering, to talk about why it’s so important.

Utah recently lowed the levels of what is “acceptable” to coincide with that of the CDC’s recommendations. The CDC states that “protecting children from exposure to lead is important to lifelong good health. No safe blood lead level in children has been identified. Even low levels of lead in blood have been shown to affect IQ, ability to pay attention, and academic achievement. And effects of lead exposure cannot be corrected.”

Fruin says parents should be talking with their doctors about having their child’s blood tested. She says the Coalition believes only 3% of children are being tested and reported to our state health dept. All blood lead levels are required to be reported to the state whether they are low or high.

Lead poisoning in children is associated with lower IQ scores, behavior disabilities such as ADHD, aggression, and other behavior disorders. These changes may be irreversible, so Fruin says they really want to prevent lead poisoning in the first place

Preventing lead poisoning requires being aware of risks in older homes, mouthing behaviors, hand washing and toy washing, and again, being tested by your doctor.

Most lead poisoning is silent, meaning there are generally no symptoms except at very high levels. It is estimated that around 2.5% of preschoolers may have elevated blood lead levels. In Utah there are about 52,000 births a year, so this could amount to about 6,000 preschool age kids in our state that may be affected.

Utah does not require blood lead testing as some state require, but if a child has Medicaid insurance, it is a federal mandate at ages 1 and 2 years old. (The Coalition thinks this happens only around 20-25% of the time).

In 2012, the CDC changed what is considered an elevated blood level from 10 to 5 micrograms/deciliter, but until recently Utah was not following this recommendation. The Utah Lead Coalition was able to get Utah to change this in August of 2017. Other goals of the Coalition are to improve lead screening, testing, reporting in Utah, and to develop some standardized guidelines for our state.

Young kids, under 3 years of age, are at highest risk for lead poisoning. They crawl around on floor and put things in their mouth that may have lead dust on them. Refugees or immigrants may also be at higher risk and should be tested. Home remedies, toys, jewelry, charms, spices may contain lead. Lead is still used in a lot of products including ammunition, fishing sinkers, stain glass, mini blinds, roofing, and artificial turf. The most common source of lead is from old paint in homes built before 1978, and home renovation increases risk.

Pregnant women are at risk of passing on lead poisoning to their baby around 12 weeks of gestation or later. This may cause damage in the nervous system before the baby is born and may be irreversible

The only way to know if a child has lead poisoning is by doing a blood lead test. That can be done with a finger prick in a medical provider’s office, or by a venous blood draw.

Salt Lake County Lead Safe Housing Program may help homeowners or renters mitigate lead problems in their home, if they qualify. Visit SLCO.org for inquiries.

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