Retrospective investigation of a lead poisoning outbreak from the consumption of an ayurvedic medicine: Durban, South Africa

Angela Mathee, Nisha Naicker, June Teare

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Citations (Scopus)


Ayurvedic medicines have been gaining in popularity around the world in recent decades, but have also been associated with lead contamination and poisoning. In 2012 in Durban, South Africa, a lead poisoning outbreak among adolescents was associated with the consumption of an Ayurvedic medicine for the treatment of skin conditions. In 2014 eight individuals (out of 12 affected) were traced and interviewed. Questionnaires were administered; blood samples were taken for lead content analysis; and medical records were reviewed. Samples of the implicated medicines were analyzed to determine lead levels. Blood lead levels during the acute phase ranged from 34 to 116 µg/dL; and during the current study (two years later) from 13 to 34 µg/dL. The implicated lead capsules had a lead content of 125,235 µg/g. Participants suffered a wide range of non-specific ill health symptoms; and there was a significant delay in the diagnosis of lead poisoning. This study highlights the potential for lead poisoning outbreaks from the consumption of Ayurvedic medicines in African settings. There were weaknesses with regard to the diagnosis of and response to the outbreak, for which measures need to be put in place to ensure greater awareness of the role of Ayurvedic medicine in lead poisoning, and prompt diagnosis and treatment of future cases.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7804-7813
Number of pages10
JournalInternational Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 10 Jul 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Ayurvedic
  • Lead poisoning
  • South Africa
  • Traditional medicine

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pollution
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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