Blood lead level testing in young children down during pandemic
Southern Seven Health Department reports that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC, has released findings which show significant decreases in testing of blood lead levels in young children the during COVID-19 pandemic.
Lead is a toxic metal that through exposure can result in severe effects in children including decreased ability to learn, permanent neurologic damage, organ failure and death.
Blood lead level, BLL, testing among children is recommended by the CDC and other health care organizations as part of well-child examinations to identify elevated BLL, eliminate the source of exposure and provide medical and other services.
CDC reviewed data reported from 34 state and local health departments, including Illinois Department of Public Health, IDPH, on BLL testing among children under age 6 during January-May 2019 and January-May 2020.
Findings showed that testing had decreased by 34 percent, (480,172 children) in January-May 2020, when compared with the same testing date range in 2019.
The CDC estimates that 9,603 children with elevated BLL were missed because of decreased testing.
In Illinois, IDPH reported a 37 percent decrease in BLL testing from 2019-2020.
The state began to document a decline in testing in February following a 5 percent increase in testing from January 2019-2020.
The most significant drop occurred in April with 5,760 children tested in 2020 compared with 21,269 in 2019, a 73 percent decrease.
Locally, Southern 7 Health Department conducted 48 BLL tests during January-May 2019, compared with 27 during the same time in 2020, a 44 percent decrease.
A variety of reasons for decreased BLL testing during COVID-19 mirror declines in other pediatric medical serves including well-child visits and screenings, emergency department visits, and orders for childhood vaccinations.
As a result of COVID-19 shelter-in-place orders and school closures, children are spending more time in contaminated environments, which increases exposure.
In the United States, the most common childhood lead exposures are from lead-based paint use in homes pre-1978, lead-contaminated soil or lead-containing pollutants from industrial sources and water from old lead pipes and fixtures.
Early identification of children with lead exposure can help identify and eliminate lead sources, reduce a child’s BLL over time, and link children with high BLLs to medical, nutritional and educational services.