What Are the Symptoms of Lead Poisoning? CDC Issues Alert After Applesauce Sickens 22 Kids

Fact checked by Nick Blackmer

  • Recalled applesauce pouches have caused 22 cases of high blood lead levels in young children, the CDC said.

  • Children are more vulnerable to lead poisoning than adults, and may or may not show symptoms after they're first exposed.

  • Given that lead toxicity can lead to long-lasting cardiovascular, neurological, and other issues, it's important that people get their blood lead levels tested if they think they've been exposed.

Nearly two dozen children have been sickened by lead after consuming recalled cinnamon-containing apple sauce products, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced Monday.

As of November 7, 22 cases of potential high blood lead levels (BLLs) in children ages 1 to 3 years old after consuming the recalled applesauce have been reported to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The children had BLLs ranging from 4 to 29 micrograms per deciliter (µg/dL)—as much as eight times greater than levels that raise concern.

The children, from 14 states across the U.S., presented with the following symptoms:

  • Headache

  • Nausea

  • Vomiting

  • Diarrhea

  • Change in activity level

  • Anemia

The CDC’s health advisory comes following the recalls of multiple applesauce products that “contained extremely high levels of lead.”

On October 28, WanaBana LLC voluntarily recalled all batches of its WanaBana Apple Cinnamon Fruit Purée in three-pack 2.5 oz pouches, due to elevated levels of lead in certain units. On November 9, WanaBana expanded that recall to include Schnucks Apple Sauce 90 g pouches with cinnamon (lot numbers 05023:19, 09023:22, and 09023:24) and Weis Cinnamon Apple Sauce 90 g pouches (lot number 05023:28).

The FDA, CDC, and other state and local agencies are still investigating the illnesses, the agencies recommend consumers not eat, sell, or serve any of the recalled products, and instead should discard them or return them to the store for a full refund.

Health officials also urge parents and caregivers of toddlers and young children who may have been exposed to lead via these products to contact their healthcare providers to report any potential symptoms of lead toxicity and receive care.

<p>FDA/WanaBana LLC</p>

FDA/WanaBana LLC

What Are the Symptoms of Lead Toxicity?

Lead toxicity, sometimes known as lead poisoning, primarily affects the central nervous system—this can be particularly dangerous to children because their nervous systems are still developing. Children may also absorb more lead than adults when it’s ingested.

For the most part, children who are exposed to lead may not show any acute symptoms—but even low levels of lead exposure can lead to learning, behavioral, or cognitive deficits.

When children are exposed to larger amounts of lead, they may go on to develop acute lead poisoning, which can affect the gastrointestinal, blood, and brain systems. This may present with certain signs and symptoms like anemia, abdominal pain, weakness, seizures, and even coma.

Again, the CDC reported that the children who were affected by the recalled applesauce pouches reported the following symptoms: headache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, change in activity level, and anemia.

If a child is exposed to lead in their early years, the effects of lead poisoning may also continue into adulthood, causing an increased risk for high blood pressure and other kinds of cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, and reproductive issues.

Related: Heavy Metals Found in Chocolate: Study Sheds Light on Lead, Cadmium in Some Products

Diagnosing and Treating Lead Toxicity

Because lead toxicity is hard to identify through symptoms alone, a blood lead test is the best way to diagnose a child with lead poisoning.

In addition to children who may have ingested any of the recalled applesauce pouches, others who may be at risk for lead poisoning include children who:

  • Live or stay in a house built before 1978, due to leaded paint

  • Are from a low-income household

  • Are immigrants, refugees, or have been recently adopted from a less developed country

  • Spend time with someone who works with or is exposed to lead in some way

If a child has a BLL above the CDC’s designated level (3.5 µg/dL), a healthcare provider will first recommend finding the source of the lead in the child’s environment and removing it. They may also prescribe a diet high in iron and calcium, and recommend follow-up blood testing.

For children with extremely high levels of lead in their blood, healthcare providers may recommend other treatments, including what’s known as chelation therapy, a medical treatment used to remove lead from the body.

Any parent who previously purchased the recalled WanaBana, Schnucks, or Weis cinnamon applesauce, or thinks their child may have consumed the product, should seek the advice of a healthcare provider and potentially test their child’s blood for lead.

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