Aside from common commercial uses, melamine became a topic of much discussion in early 2007, when veterinary scientists determined it to be the cause of hundreds of pet deaths, because of pet food contamination. Prior to these reports, melamine had been regarded as non-toxic or minimally toxic. However, because of the unexplained presence of melamine in wheat gluten added to mass-produced dog and cat foods, it is the most likely cause. Pet owners report symptoms that are commonly associated with renal failure, which could be explained by the ammonia that may result from the digestion of the melamine.
Time magazine 17 September 2008 mentions “the material — in powdered form — has also come into use by certain unscrupulous food companies as a cheap and abundant filler substance for products ranging from livestock feed to pet food — and now, apparently, to baby formula. In some tests used to determine the nutritional value of a foodstuff, melamine shows up as a protein — so manufacturers can use the compound to make their products appear more nutritious. Melamine is not toxic, but inside the body it can cause kidney stones and renal failure.” The FDA database concurs.
Another Time report 16 September 2008 states that “On September 17, Chinese Health Ministry authorities announced that over 6200 babies had fallen ill, many developing kidney stones, from drinking milk made from toxic powder. At least three have died, and more than 50 remain in serious condition. Officials have said the number of victims could climb, the China Daily reported. Chinese authorities say the milk powder, produced by Chinese dairy giant Sanlu Group, was contaminated with melamine, a chemical used in making plastics. Melamine has been illegally added to food products in China to boost their apparent protein content.” The company started recalling its product on 11 September 2008, a too little, too late to save those who have died and countless others who will suffer kidney problems now or in the future. It was suspected that the company has received complaints about their milk in December 2007.
The World Health Organisation has this to say:
What are the health effects of melamine consumptions in humans?
While there are no direct human studies on the effect of melamine data from animal studies can be used to predict adverse health effects. Melamine alone causes bladder stones in animal tests. When combined with cyanuric acid, which may also be present in melamine powder, melamine can form crystals that can give rise to kidney stones.
These small crystals can also block the small tubes in the kidney potentially stoppingthe production of urine, causing kidney failure and, in some cases, death. Melamine has also been shown to have carcinogenic effects in animals in certain circumstances, but there is insufficient evidence to make a judgment on carcinogenic risk in humans.
What are the symptoms and signs of melamine poisoning?
Irritability, blood in urine, little or no urine, signs of kidney infection, high blood pressure
What is the treatment for kidney stones and kidney failure?
Patients may receive various types of treatment, depending on the severity of the kidney effects. Treatment may include infusion of fluids and urine alkalinisation, correction of electrolyte and acid-base disturbance, haemodialysis or peritoneal dialysis, or surgical removal of kidney stones.
Today I have seen a few children brought in by parents who are afraid their children has melamine poisoning (I practise paediatrics in Malaysia)
My advice is:
(1) There is no need to panic. Most infant formula in Malaysia are sourced from Australia, New Zealand and Europe. Check with the local papers to see if your children have been drinking milk that are on the banned item list.
(2) Eating from melamine plates and bowls do not cause melamine poisoning.
(3) Bring your child to see a doctor only if your child has been drinking milk on these banned list in the last twelve months. It is not necessary for you to bring your child if your child has drunk a glass of the ‘banned’ milk or eaten a White Rabbit candy ten years ago!
(4) Your doctor may suggest a urine test if he or she suspects anything. The urine test is a good screening for injury to the kidneys.
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