|Prompted by an emergency room visit of a 22-day-old baby for potassium bromide poisoning, the city health department is warning parents about Monell’s Teething Cordial, or Cordial de Monell para la Dentición, a product from the Dominican Republic that is sold illegally in the United States.
In April, a national distributor of the liquid, Castillo Distributor, conducted a voluntary recall of the medicine after concerns were raised by the Food and Drug Administration after an earlier case of infant poisoning, said Louis Rios, a spokesman for the company.
“The product is coming from the Dominican Republic; it is very well-known and used for years,” he said. However, he noted that “it’s a forbidden substance in the United States.”
Cordial is one of a number of folk remedies that immigrants use in their underground medical system. Enough so that doctors in largely immigrant neighborhoods have put together guides to the medicines for residents.
Cordial De Monell — which contains potassium bromide, betula oil, oil of anise and a clear syrup base — retails for about $5 and is often used to treat teething and colic.
“We know it’s available in corner stores around New York City,” said Nathan M. Graber, director of environmental and occupational disease epidemiology for the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
The products are brought in by distributors who may not realize it is banned. “It goes on for sale until someone gets sick and it is recognized as illegal by an agency,” he said.
The baby was treated for the potassium bromide poisoning after parents took her to a hospital emergency room because of excessive sleepiness and lack of drinking, according to the health department. Doctors found that the parents had bought the cordial and had been adding the liquid to each of her meals over the 12 days. She recovered after five days.
Symptoms of potassium bromide ingestion may include sedation, trouble breathing and low blood pressure. The health department also noted that chronic ingestion of bromides over time by older children and adults may cause “bromism,” marked by behavioral changes that develop after two to four weeks, like irritability, headache, confusion, anorexia, slurred speech and lethargy. Historically, potassium bromide was used as an anesthetic in surgery, but no longer.
Parents who are concerned should call (212) POISONS, or (212) 764-7667, for English, and 212-VENENOS, or (212) 836-3667, for Spanish. Both lines operate 24 hours a day.
The product has a had a history of warnings. In a trial in 1879, a jury found that the death of a 1-year-old “had been caused by congestion of the brain caused by the administration of Monell’s Teething Cordial.”