HealthDay News — In a Notes from the Field report, published in the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, doctors present the case of a California woman with significant central nervous system damage after using a skin-lightening cream from Mexico that contained toxic mercury.

“Most harmful skin-lightening creams are intentionally tainted with inorganic mercury. But in this case, the patient used a skin-lightening product containing organic mercury, which is far more toxic,” senior author Paul D. Blanc, MD, of the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), and California Poison Control System, said in a statement. Organic mercury can cause “profound damage” to the central nervous system that may even worsen after use ends, he added.

The woman first sought medical help for involuntary muscle movement and weakness in her shoulders and arms, according to the report. After 2 weeks of outpatient care, she was admitted to a hospital with symptoms that included blurry vision, unsteady gait, and difficulty speaking. Blood and urine tests confirmed mercury poisoning. Her family told doctors that she had been using skin-lightening creams from Mexico twice a day for 7 years. The woman underwent chelation therapy, but her condition did not improve. She was transferred to UCSF, where tests found that the skin cream she used contained methylmercury. This is the first known case of methylmercury poisoning in the United States in nearly 50 years.

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Many weeks after her initial hospitalization, the woman requires “ongoing tube feeding for nutritional support” and cannot speak or care for herself, according to the authors.

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