Updated: Feb. 15, 2023.
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State and local health officials are issuing an urgent warning to consumers and retailers after learning that an ointment designed for use on babies contains lead at nearly 1,000 times the Food and Drug Administration’s maximum allowable level for cosmetics.
Two Portland-area infants — one each in Multnomah and Washington counties, and both younger than a year old — were recently found to have elevated blood lead levels. During investigations by state and local lead experts, parents of both children said they recently used Diep Bao ointment, manufactured in Vietnam, on their babies’ faces to treat eczema. Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, causes dry, itchy and inflamed skin, and is common in young children.
If parents suspect they have been using Diep Bao on their child, they should stop using the product immediately and reach out to their medical provider to have their child tested for lead poisoning. Parents can help the investigation by providing the product to investigators so they can have it tested. They also are asking parents to learn about the risks of exposure to other lead-tainted products and to make sure children’s blood levels are tested if they have been exposed to them.
People who have a tube of Diep Bao and would like it tested for lead, or if they have other concerns about lead, can contact the following:
- Multnomah County Leadline: 503-988-4000 or email@example.com. Interpretation is free. Those submitting a product will receive instructions on where to drop it off.
- Consumers who have a complaint regarding the use of Diep Bao cream are encouraged to call the Oregon Consumer Complaint Coordinator or report the product through FDA’s Online Reporting Form.
Most often there are no clear symptoms of lead exposure or poisoning in a child. If there are symptoms, they are easily mistaken for other things, like the flu or attention-related issues. The lack of obvious symptoms in cases of lead exposure and poisoning highlights the importance of regular screening and annual checkups for children. The condition may cause damage to the nervous system and internal organs. Acute lead poisoning may cause a wide range of symptoms, including abdominal pain, muscle weakness, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss, and bloody or decreased urinary output.
Children are particularly vulnerable to lead poisoning. If a child is exposed to enough lead for a protracted period (e.g., weeks to months), permanent damage to the central nervous system can occur. This can result in learning disorders, developmental defects, and other long-term health problems.
“These lead poisoning cases were discovered through a combination of regular pediatric checkups, parent engagement, and public health follow-up to connect the dots,” said Perry Cabot, a senior program specialist at Multnomah County’s Health Department. “All these factors highlight the importance of staying engaged in your children's health, whether it's you, your medical provider, or your local or State health program.”
Risk of lead
Multnomah County's Lead Poisoning Prevention Program is an outreach and education resource and conducts investigations in response to elevated blood lead levels in children to identify the source of exposure and assist families with prevention strategies.
On average, 270 Oregonians are diagnosed with lead poisoning each year, and about one-third of those are children younger than 6. The most common cases — about a third — come from ingesting paint and paint dust containing lead, but exposures from traditional cosmetics and informally imported spices have been identified in the past.
For more information, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program page.
Regional and federal health authorities have long been aware of the risk of lead contamination in some cosmetic products and traditional medicines coming from India and Asia.
Oregon's case definition for lead poisoning has been a blood lead level of 5 µg/dL or greater, which is when public health agencies investigate and provide case management to families. However, out of an abundance of caution — and to align with lead poisoning definitions of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and FDA — public health agencies have recently begun investigating cases with blood lead levels above 3.5 µg/dL.
Public health officials are very interested in having Diep Bao samples tested at the laboratory. Please contact the Multnomah County Health Department Leadline at 503-988-4000 or email firstname.lastname@example.org, and public health officials will collect your product for free analysis. Local health officials are asking families and community leaders to contact their local public health department with any concerns, questions or requests for community outreach (interpretation is always free).