Methylmercury poisoning is brain and nervous system damage from the chemical methylmercury.
Minamata Bay disease; Basra poison grain poisoning
Causes, incidence, and risk factors
Methylmercury is a type of
Unborn babies and young infants are very sensitive to methylmercury's effects. Methylmercury causes
The FDA recommends that women who are pregnant, or may become pregnant, and nursing mothers avoid fish that may contain unsafe levels of methylmercury. Such fish includes swordfish, king mackerel, shark, or tilefish. (Young infants should not be given these fish, either.) You should not eat any type of these fish caught by friends and family. Check with your local or state health departments for warnings against locally caught, noncommercial fish.
Some health care providers have raised concerns about ethyl mercury (thimerosal), a chemical used in some vaccines. However, research shows that childhood vaccines do not lead to dangerous mercury levels in the body. Vaccines used in children today only contain trace amounts of thimerosal. Thimerosal-free vaccines are available.
Blindness Cerebral palsy Deafness
- Growth problems
- Mental retardation
Signs and tests
Tests will vary depending on the symptoms that occur.
Methylmercury damage is irreversible. Treatment is determined by the severity of the condition and is similar to that given for cerebral palsy. The patient should be removed from the source of exposure. Treatment may involve:
- Activated charcoal (if mercury is swallowed)
- Fluids and electrolytes
- Dialysis (kidney machine)
The symptoms are irreversible; however, they do not usually worsen unless there is a new exposure to methylmercury.
Complications depend on the severity of the condition, and the specific symptoms manifested (such as
Methylmercury poisoning has been linked to an increased heart attack rate.
Calling your health care provider
The National Poison Control Center (1-800-222-1222) can be called from anywhere in the United States. This national hotline number will let you talk to experts in poisoning. They will give you further instructions.
This is a free and confidential service. All local poison control centers in the United States use this national number. You should call if you have any questions about poisoning or poison prevention. It does NOT need to be an emergency. You can call for any reason, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Take the container with you to the hospital, if possible.
Strict avoidance of any foods contaminated with methylmercury will prevent poisoning. Because of manufacturing, mercury has become so common in the environment that trace amounts of methylmercury are present in many foods derived from the ocean, including deep-sea tuna. Fortunately, the levels are low enough that most of these foods remain safe. Contact poison control if you believe you may have been exposed.
Long H, Nelson LS. Metals and metalloids. In: Tintinalli JE, Kelen GD, Stapczynski JS, Ma OJ, Cline DM, eds. Emergency Medicine: A Comprehensive Study Guide. 6th ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 2004:chap 184.