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Merthiolate poisoning

Definition

Merthiolate is a mercury-containing substance that was once widely used as germ-killer and a preservative in many different products, including vaccines.

Merthiolate poisoning occurs when large amounts of the substance are swallowed or come in contact with your skin. Poisoning may also occur if you are exposed to small amounts of merthiolate constantly over a long period of time.

This is for information only and not for use in the treatment or management of an actual poison exposure. If you have an exposure, you should call your local emergency number (such as 911) or the National Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222.

Poisonous Ingredient

Thimerosal

Where Found

  • Merthiolate
  • Some eye drops
  • Some nasal drops

The FDA banned the use of merthiolate in over-the-counter products in the late 1990s.

Symptoms

Home Treatment

If you are concerned about a possible overdose, contact your local poison control center for advice.

Before Calling Emergency

Determine the following information:

  • Patient's age, weight, and condition
  • Name of the product (ingredients and strengths, if known)
  • Time it was swallowed
  • Amount swallowed

Poison Control, or a local emergency number

The National Poison Control Center (1-800-222-1222) can be called from anywhere in the United States. This national hotline number will let you talk to experts in poisoning. They will give you further instructions.

This is a free and confidential service. All local poison control centers in the United States use this national number. You should call if you have any questions about poisoning or poison prevention. It does NOT need to be an emergency. You can call for any reason, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Take the container with you to the hospital, if possible.

See: Poison control center - emergency number

What to expect at the emergency room

The health care provider will measure and monitor the patient's vital signs, including temperature, pulse, breathing rate, and blood pressure. Symptoms will be treated as appropriate. The patient may receive:

  • Activated charcoal
  • Cathartic (a medication used to empty the bowels)
  • Medicine called a chelator that tries to remove merthiolate from the body over time

Expectations (prognosis)

Merthiolate poisoning is difficult to treat. In the case of a large exposure, recovery would be very slow and may never occur.

References

Goldfrank LR, ed. Goldfrank's Toxicologic Emergencies. 8th ed. New York, NY: McGraw Hill; 2006.


Review Date: 2/2/2011
Reviewed By: Eric Perez, MD, Department of Emergency Medicine, St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center, New York, NY. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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