Health officials confirm 7 Georgia children have lead poisoning from applesauce

Preserving the tainted pouches of applesauce not required to establish a connection, health officials say.

Georgia Department of Public Health officials said Wednesday they can now confirm seven children in the state have been sickened by lead from tainted applesauce pouches. There are also two suspected cases linked to the now-recalled applesauce pouches, DPH spokeswoman Nancy Nydam told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said cases can be confirmed when a person has an elevated blood level within three months after consuming a recalled product. A home assessment must also be conducted to rule out other potential sources of lead before a confirmation can be made. However, testing on the actual recalled product is not required for a confirmed case.

There’s no safe level of lead exposure, and lead is particularly dangerous to children because their growing bodies absorb more lead than adults and their brains and nervous systems are more sensitive to the damaging effects of lead. A test measures the concentration of lead in the blood, as “micrograms per deciliter of blood.” The CDC uses a marker of 3.5 micrograms per deciliter to identify children with higher levels than most. This is also the minimum level required to be found in a blood test for a case to be confirmed.

Meanwhile, the Food and Drug Administration is zeroing in on cinnamon from a manufacturer in Ecuador as the source of high levels of lead as more illnesses among young children in the United States are linked to tainted applesauce.

The FDA said it has started an onsite inspection at the Austrofoods facility in Ecuador. Austrofood, along with Wanabana USA, is the distributor of WanaBana products in the United States. The FDA said the Ecuadorian authorities reported that Negasmart’s cinnamon had higher levels of lead than allowed by Ecuador.

Negasmart, the supplier of cinnamon to Austrofoods, is currently under an Ecuadorian administrative sanctions process to determine the responsible party for the contamination.

The FDA said Wednesday it has received 64 reports of adverse events in children 5 years of age or younger potentially linked to recalled products. In Georgia, a total of nine children have recently tested positive for elevated levels of lead in their blood. That includes the seven confirmed cases and the two still under review.

Nationwide, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has received 52 reports of high blood lead levels in children potentially linked to the recalled applesauce. This does not yet include the cases in Georgia.

The FDA and CDC have different data sources so they don’t necessarily match. The FDA relies on self-reported information from healthcare providers, consumers, and some state partners.

Cases are reported to the CDC through state health departments.

Lead exposure in an individual can be caused by several sources. The CDC said there is no established method to link lead exposure in an individual to a specific source, which can make establishing that link difficult.

The recalls for the products started being issued in late October. FDA said it was aware that the recalled Wanabana brand cinnamon applesauce was still for sale in some Dollar Tree stores in multiple states despite the recall and it is working with the company to ensure all remaining products are removed.

WanaBana USA didn’t respond to specific questions but sent a press release saying the company is working to investigate the source of the contamination and is collaborating with the FDA in updating consumers with information related to the recall.

DPH spokeswoman Nydam said the Georgia agency sent lead inspectors to do home inspections for the lead poisoning cases here. They perform soil and paint tests to help determine the source of poisoning and rule out other potential sources.

Lead poisoning is very common. One in 40 children between the ages of 1 and 5 years of age have lead blood levels that are at above the threshold for elevated childhood levels.

Georgia health officials didn’t share any more details on the children sickened in Georgia including where they live, their ages or blood lead levels.

Metals like lead, arsenic, and mercury get on plants through pollution in the air or water. Lead is commonly found in imported spices, candies, cosmetics or nutritional supplements.

Recalled applesauce pouches

— WanaBana brand apple cinnamon fruit purée pouches (sold nationally)

— Schnucks brand cinnamon applesauce pouches (sold in Midwest states)

— Weis brand cinnamon applesauce pouches (sold in Mid-Atlantic states)

The Wanabana brand was sold nationwide and online. The other brands were sold at regional grocery stores.

More on lead poisoning

A blood lead level tells you how much lead is in your child’s body. The test measures lead levels, also known as the concentration of lead in the blood, as “micrograms per deciliter of blood.”

There’s no safe level of lead exposure, but the CDC uses a marker of 3.5 micrograms per deciliter to identify children with higher levels than most. An earlier report from the CDC on Nov. 13 said the affected children’s blood lead levels ranged from 4 to 29 micrograms per deciliter. A blood level of 29 micrograms per deciliter would be eight times higher than the level that raises concern, according to the CDC.

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