PINE BELT (WDAM) - Forrest and Jones Counties are two of 20 in the state with a high-risk of lead poisoning in children.
According to the Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH), 20 children in Jones County and 3 in Forrest County tested positive for lead poisoning in 2015.
"We're really talking about kids under 5, mostly kids under 2," said Dr. Thomas Dobbs, epidemiology consultant for the state department of health and chief medical officer at South Central Regional Medical Center. "Kids between the ages of 6 months and 72 months are going to be our biggest target group because those are kids who are young. Their brain is developing very rapidly, and they're most susceptible to the toxic effects of lead. Lead is a neurotoxin, so even small amounts of lead can have significant impacts on children's cognitive development. Even very small levels can make kids be delayed in their reading comprehension, in their academic attainment, so it's very important for children to avoid lead when they're young and when they're infants, and also to be tested so if they are exposed, measures can be taken to mitigate that."
MSDH considers a county to have high-risk for lead poisoning based on three factors.
"One is a high proportion of homes that were build before 1950," Dobbs said. "A lot of the paint used in those homes contains lead, and so that paint can chip off and get into the soil, contaminate the environment, and children can ingest that accidentally. You know, kids put stuff in their mouth all the time, so that certainly makes sense."
The other two risk factors are counties with high rates of poverty and those where the department has already seen high rates of lead in children.
Dobbs said there are several ways to reduce the risk of lead poisoning, even in high-risk areas.
"One of the most important things to do is to be very careful with old paint," he said. "You know, clean up the environment, make sure there's no paint chips, particularly white paint, (or) paint dust. don't let the kids put stuff in their mouth, particularly soil right outside the house. The paint can fall off and get into the soil. That's going to be one of the most important things that can be done."
Dobbs said children can be exposed to lead in smaller amounts through water, but said it is less common. He also said to be wary of old toys that could be made with lead, and said people can accidentally bring lead into their homes.
"Sometimes people can track lead into the home, like on their shoes, like if you're working in construction," Dobbs said. "Make sure you don't track it into the house because kids are all over the floor, obviously, and they can ingest lead. Really, the main thing is going to be the paint, and lesser is going to be water. Certainly, it's something that we pay attention to, and in some areas, like I know Jackson had a recent issue and obviously Detroit, where they had to pay a lot more attention to it."
Another way to reduce risk is to be sure a doctor tests your child's blood for lead. Dobbs said it's a typically a finger prick, but if that test is positive, doctors will draw blood from a vein to determine if lead was on just the skin or is in the child's blood.
"Make sure you get checked with your doctor," Dobbs said. "It's recommended with the Medicaid screening program that all children be checked at 12 months and 24 months, and then if they have risk factors, even more frequently. Basically, be careful of lead in your environment, and also make sure you get checked with your doctor."
If a child is exposed to lead, Dobbs said solutions depend on the level of lead in a child's blood.
"If it's relatively low, there will be some education and some close monitoring because there's not much really to do if it's kind of low," Dobbs said. "If it's a little bit higher level, then the state department of health actually will offer to do an environmental assessment. They'll come out, look at your house and make sure that there's no acute danger to your child. If it gets very, very high, then there are actually treatments you can do. That's pretty rare to require direct treatments. Mostly it's identification of risk, then risk factor modification, so the ongoing exposure is limited."
The other 18 high-risk counties are Adams, Bolivar, Clay, Coahoma, Harrison, Hinds, Holmes, Humphreys, Jackson, Lauderdale, Leflore, Neshoba, Newton, Pike, Sunflower, Tallahatchi, Washington and Yazoo.