Hair mercury in breast-fed infants exposed to thimerosal-preserved vaccines

Eur J Pediatr. 2007 Sep;166(9):935-41. doi: 10.1007/s00431-006-0362-2. Epub 2007 Jan 20.


Because of uncertainties associated with a possible rise in neuro-developmental deficits among vaccinated children, thimerosal-preserved vaccines have not been used since 2004 in the USA (with the exception of thimerosal-containing influenza vaccines which are routinely recommended for administration to pregnant women and children), and the EU but are widely produced and used in other countries. We investigated the impact of thimerosal on the total Hg in hair of 82 breast-fed infants during the first 6 months of life. The infants received three doses of the hepatitis-B vaccine (at birth, 1 and 6 months) and three DTP (diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis) doses at 2, 4 and 6 months, according to the immunization schedule recommended by the Ministry of Health of Brazil. The thimerosal in vaccines provided an ethylmercury (EtHg) exposure of 25 microgHg at birth, 30, 60 and 120 days, and 50 microgHg at 180 days. The exposure to vaccine-EtHg represents 80% of that expected from total breast milk-Hg in the first month but only 40% of the expected exposure integrated in the 6 months of breastfeeding. However, the Hg exposure corrected for body weight at the day of immunization was much higher from thimerosal- EtHg (5.7 to 11.3 microgHg/kg b.w.) than from breastfeeding (0.266 microgHg/kg b.w.). While mothers showed a relative decrease (-57%) in total hair-Hg during the 6 months lactation there was substantial increase in the infant's hair-Hg (446%). We speculate that dose and parenteral mode of thimerosal-EtHg exposure modulated the relative increase in hair-Hg of breast-fed infants at 6 months of age.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Brazil
  • Breast Feeding
  • Cohort Studies
  • Ethylmercury Compounds / metabolism
  • Female
  • Hair / chemistry*
  • Humans
  • Immunization Schedule
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Mercury / analysis*
  • Mercury / metabolism
  • Methylmercury Compounds / metabolism
  • Middle Aged
  • Milk, Human / chemistry*
  • Pregnancy
  • Preservatives, Pharmaceutical / metabolism*
  • Thimerosal / metabolism*
  • Vaccines / adverse effects
  • Vaccines / chemistry*


  • Ethylmercury Compounds
  • Methylmercury Compounds
  • Preservatives, Pharmaceutical
  • Vaccines
  • Thimerosal
  • Mercury