An unusual source of lead poisoning: gunshot wounds - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

An unusual source of lead poisoning: gunshot wounds

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BY MAGGIE FOX, NBC News

(NBC News) - Here's another risk from getting shot that you may not have thought to be worried about: lead poisoning.

More than 450 people were diagnosed with high lead levels in their blood from bullets between 2003 and 2012, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention researchers found.

The lead comes from bullet fragments not removed from the body, the team reported in Thursday's weekly CDC report.

"Retained bullet fragments are an infrequently reported, but important, cause of lead toxicity; symptoms are often nonspecific and can appear years after suffering a gunshot wound," the team wrote.

They include fatigue, abdominal pain, and memory loss, Debora Weiss, a CDC epidemiologist working at the Wisconsin Department of Health Services reported along with colleagues.

"Gunshot wounds cause an estimated 115,000 injuries in the United States per year, approximately 70 percent of which are nonfatal," they wrote.

The bullets are not always removed unless it's easy to do so or unless they're dangerous or painful.

Weiss's team looked at a database of adult cases of lead toxicity in 41 states. They found 145,000 cases, and 457 of them were blamed on bullet fragments.

Lead is always toxic. When levels rise above 10 nanograms per deciliter of blood, people can develop high blood pressure, kidney damage, potential brain damage and miscarriages Seventeen of the 457 patients had levels eight times that high or higher, the team found.

Lead poisoning is a more important danger for children than for adults.

Lead can also kill wildlife. Lead bullets and lead shot can be eaten by predators and scavengers if prey animals are not killed or collected by hunters.

Lead from weights used in fishing can also leach into groundwater or affect fish.

Unborn babies and very young children are most vulnerable to the effects of the heavy metal, which destroys nerve cells, including developing brain tissue. These effects cannot be reversed.

Frequent sources are lead-based paint, pottery glazed with compounds that include lead, and drinking water from pipe made or soldered with lead.

Flint, Michigan has been battling lead in its water supply for years now, as have some other U.S. communities. 

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