The clinical, biochemical, and haematological aspects of a recent outbreak of lead poisoning, in which exposure was related to the oxyacetylene cutting of red lead painted ironwork, were investigated. Initial suspicion was raised when a blood film showed punctate basophilia which remains a simple and useful method of picking up lead toxicity. Estimations of blood lead concentration and conventional laboratory data confirmed the diagnosis. Although there was prominent punctate basophilia, spectrophotometric analysis showed only negligible accumulation of pyrimidine-5'-nucleotides despite severe suppression of pyrimidine-5'-nucleotidase activity. The pattern of the red cell glycolytic intermediates, investigated for the first time, suggested that lead may also affect glycolysis at the hexokinase step. Once the diagnosis was made intravenous chelation treatment was begun with a rapid improvement in symptoms. Long term follow up is required to assess any sequelae of intoxication. These cases emphasise the classic features of lead poisoning, and despite the currently available diagnostic tests, lead intoxication may still go unrecognised unless a thorough occupational history is taken.
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