It might be the one-year well visit, or you’ve brought in Michael for his annual well check up – and Michael is now a towering 6-foot 17-year old. Every parent wants to know: Why is it important that you draw blood from my child? Pediatricians order bloodwork at well visits for a variety of reasons and those reasons vary from age-to-age. Today, we focus on why assessing lead risk and conducting lead tests for ages 6 months through 6 years is important and recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
Measuring for lead levels?
Yes, even in today’s world, our children can be exposed to lead. Most commonly, the lead source is dust and chips from deteriorating lead paint on interior surfaces, especially in older homes, as well as many toys and products from outside the United States. In some places in this great country, drinking water is still pumped through leaded pipes. Certain home remedies, consumer products such as candies, make up and jewelry, and imported products like clay pots can contain lead. Lead exposure can be insidious as it can take place over extended time periods before there are any symptoms.
Lead is toxic to everyone, but especially for unborn babies and young children because their smaller, growing bodies make them more susceptible to absorbing and retaining lead because of their developing guts. Once lead gets into a person’s system, it’s distributed throughout the body just like important minerals such as iron, calcium and zinc. In the bloodstream, lead can damage red blood cells and inhibit their ability to carry oxygen to organs and tissues, thus causing anemia. Lead in the bone can interfere with producing blood cells and absorbing calcium — and calcium is essential for strong bones and teeth, muscle contraction and nerve and blood vessel functions.
Even a small amount of lead in a baby can cause learning disabilities, behavioral problems, and anemia. At higher levels, lead exposure can cause seizures, coma, and even death, G-d forbid.
The AAP recommends that the pediatrician conducts a lead risk assessment at the 6-month, 9-month, 12-month, 18-month, and 24-month well visits as well as those at ages 3, 4, 5, and 6. If the risk assessment is positive, then the pediatrician should conduct a lead test to measure the lead level. Medicaid and most private insurers cover this test.
The optimal treatment for lead poisoning is primary prevention. However, children are not found to have lead in their environment until they have an elevated blood level. Should a child test with a high lead level – and any level of lead is too high, there is pharmacological intervention. Public health staff should investigate thoroughly the child’s physical environment and family lifestyle for sources of lead.
What can parents do?
- Partner with your pediatrician to assure your child’s health. Answer honestly the risk assessment questions. If your pediatrician recommends the lead test, do so. Good information can lead to the most effective protocol.
- The CDC recommends talking to your local health department about testing paint and dust in your home if you live in a home built before 1978.
- Common home renovations like sanding, cutting and demolition can create hazardous lead dust and chips by disturbing lead-based paints. It’s optimal that renovation activities be performed by certifies renovators who are trained by EPA-approved training providers to follow lead-safe work practices. Please refer to: http://www.epa.gov/ead/pubs/renovation.htm.
- If you see paint chips or dust in windowsills or on floors because of peeling paint, clean these areas regularly with a wet mop. Wipe your feet on mats before entering the home, especially if you work in occupations where lead is used. Remove your shoes when entering your home.
- Remove recalled toys and toy jewelry from children. Stay current on recalls by visiting the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s website: http://www.cpsc.gov/.
To learn more about the CDC’s recommendations for lead poisoning prevention, please consult http://www.cdc.gov/nceh/lead/about/program.htm.
Chazal tell us that blood serves as an adhesive, connecting our bodies, the source of our animalistic instincts, with our souls, the source of our spiritual drives. It serves us well to take care of our blood, the synthesis of our life, the fusion of our most basic wants and needs with our aspirations to rise and soar above them.
Special thank you to Rabbi David Fleischmann of Far Rockaway, NY, for his valuable input.