Methylmercury poisoning in Iraqi children: clinical observations over two years

Br Med J. 1978 Mar 11;1(6113):613-6. doi: 10.1136/bmj.1.6113.613.


The clinical features of 49 children who had eaten bread contaminated with methylmercury in rural Iraq were reviewed. Symptoms and signs relating to the nervous system--varying degrees of ataxia, weakness, and visual and sensory changes--dominated the clinical picture. The severity of poisoning was related to the blood mercury concentration, as was the degree of recovery. Follow-up over two years showed that children who had had mild or moderate poisoning slowly but steadily improved, some of them recovering normal function, though all had a residual generalized hyperreflexia. In some patients ataxia and motor weakness disappeared. Visual changes also improved, though less completely, and of 17 blind children, only five had recovered partial sight by the end of two years. Seven of the 18 children who suffered very severe poisoning were left physically and mentally incapacitated. The degree of clinical progress shown by these children was better than that shown by some other groups of patients, possibly because the poisoning was relatively acute and mercury consumption was stopped immediately after its effects had become obvious.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Ataxia / chemically induced
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Hearing Disorders / chemically induced
  • Humans
  • Iraq
  • Male
  • Mercury / blood
  • Methylmercury Compounds / poisoning*
  • Nervous System Diseases / chemically induced*
  • Paresthesia / chemically induced
  • Speech Disorders / chemically induced
  • Time Factors
  • Vision Disorders / chemically induced


  • Methylmercury Compounds
  • Mercury