A 50-year-old woman was rushed to the hospital. She was severely weak and began having trouble breathing.
By the time she got to the hospital she had pinpoint pupils and was sweating profusely. Within an hour she stopped breathing, and went into a coma. The doctors placed a breathing tube in her windpipe, and attached her to a respirator.
But what was wrong with her? The doctors didn't have a clue. Then an alert nurse noticed that the woman had a peculiar smell coming from her hair. The odor resembled garlic, and to the nurse it smelled like insecticide.
The doctors diagnosed her with organophosphate pesticide poisoning. They immediately treated her with two drugs, atropine and 2-PAM, to reverse the effects of the poison. Each time she received the medications she awoke and improved. But then immediately stopped breathing and went back into a coma again. The nurses washed her skin and shampooed her hair several times, but this had no lasting effect.
Finally, since the primary contamination seemed to be in her hair, the nurses shaved her head. It was only then that she steadily improved. She regained consciousness, and was able to breathe on her own. Eventually, the doctors weaned her off her medicines.
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When the initial blood tests returned, they verified that the nurse was correct. The woman was poisoned with an organophosphate insecticide. But how? How did her hair have enough insecticide to almost kill her? The answer came from the patient when she was finally able to talk.
She remembered that just before she became ill, her neighbor shampooed her hair. The hospital contacted the neighbor and asked her to bring in the shampoo she used. Chagrined, she showed up with two containers. One held shampoo. The other, a similar bottle, contained an organophosphate insecticide. Both receptacles were the same size. The labels were old and blurred.
"I must have used the wrong one," she said when she learned that her friend almost died from insecticide poisoning.
Her friend was very lucky this high-dose of poison didn't kill her. We know that even low levels of these pesticides can cause Parkinson's disease, birth defects, male infertility, and even multiple sclerosis in susceptible people. The problem is that we don't have a way of determining who is susceptible and who isn't.
So the most common sense attitude to take is to just avoid them. In addition, make sure that your children and grandchildren do not run barefoot on lawns that have these pesticides sprayed on them. The same goes for your dogs.
Yours for better health,
Frank Shallenberger, MD
Larry Zaroff, MD and Jonathan Zaroff, MD. "Is There a Barber in the House?" December 19, 2006.