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Toddler Hospitalized with Poisoning After Parents Fed Him Rhino Horn Powder

Folk medicine still plays a major role in daily Vietnamese life, but inappropriate usage of these ingredients can create serious consequences.

Nguoi Lao Dong reports that, on July 18, the Ho Chi Minh City Children’s Hospital 2 received a 22-month-old patient with high fever, fatigue and cyanosis. After tests eliminated heart- and lung-related problems, doctors suspected that the condition was caused by a toxin, and a blood test confirmed their conjecture.

The results showed that the baby’s blood contained about a 30% methemoglobin level, which led to oxygen deprivation, difficulty in breathing and bluish skin. Methemoglobin is an alternative form of hemoglobin containing Fe3+ instead of Fe2+, making red blood cells unable to transport oxygen. In normal blood, its concentration is less than 1%. At levels above 10%, it can cause shortness of breath and cyanosis, while seizures and even death can occur at levels above 50%.

According to the toddler’s parents, on the morning of the same day, they fed him rhino horn powder to treat febrile seizures, a form of full-body convulsions caused by high fever. The powder was a gift from a family friend.

At the hospital, the toddler was treated with supplemental oxygen and activated charcoal, in addition to other detoxifying measures. After five days in the hospital, he’s currently stable.

Dr. Nguyen Van Loc, head of the hospital’s Department of Intensive Care and Poison Control, told the news source that, apart from genetic causes, elevated levels of methemoglobin can be due to environmental factors such as exposure or ingestion of certain chemicals, drugs or food.

“There’s a lot of information on social media about the ‘miracle cure’ that is rhino horn. However, there’s no scientific proof that rhino horn can treat febrile seizures and other diseases,” Loc explained.

Rhino horn has been part of Chinese traditional medicine for centuries, used in attempts to treat a range of medical conditions from gout, fever and headaches to “devil possession,” some pharmacopeias state.

According to Dr. Doan Huu Minh, from the National Hospital of Traditional Medicine in Hanoi, the powder only has some effectiveness in reducing fever, but is rarely prescribed for that purpose nowadays because rhino species are critically endangered and there are many herbal alternatives that are cheap and easy to procure.

[Photo via Discover Magazine]

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