Shin SR, Han AL. Korean J Fam Med. 2012 Sep;33(5):320-5. doi: 10.4082/kjfm.2012.33.5.320. Epub 2012 Sep 27.
Department of Family Medicine, Wonkwang University College of Medicine, Iksan, Korea.
Clinical manifestations of chronic exposure to organic mercury usually have a gradual onset. As the primary target is the nervous system, chronic mercury exposure can cause symptoms such as fatigue, weakness, headache, and poor recall and concentration. In severe cases chronic exposure leads to intellectual deterioration and neurologic abnormality. Recent outbreaks of bovine spongiform encephalopathy and pathogenic avian influenza have increased fish consumption in Korea. Methyl-mercury, a type of organic mercury, is present in higher than normal ranges in the general Korean population. When we examine a patient with chronic fatigue, we assess his/her methyl-mercury concentrations in the body if environmental exposure such as excessive fish consumption is suspected. In the current case, we learned the patient had consumed many slices of raw tuna and was initially diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome. Therefore, we suspected that he was exposured to methyl-mercury and that the mercury concentration in his hair would be below the poisoning level identified by World Health Organization but above the normal range according to hair toxic mineral assay. Our patient's toxic chronic fatigue symptoms improved after he was given mercury removal therapy, indicating that he was correctly diagnosed with chronic exposure to organic mercury.