Spanish pharmaceutical manufacturer Farma-Química Sur is facing trial for their role in an outbreak of unusual hair growth in infants across the country.
Parents feared the worst when their children developed a condition informally referred to as “werewolf syndrome” as a result of drinking a medicated syrup produced by the company.
More appropriately known as hypertrichosis, the condition is characterised by thicker, denser patterns of body hair sprouting from areas of the body usually covered by a finer fuzz.
Historically, people with more extreme versions of the rare trait attracted the sort of attention that would get them ostracised and outcast, or ending up in side-shows under unflattering descriptions as wolf-children.
Times may have changed, but for the concerned parents, drastic hair growth in a baby can still come as quite the shock.
“My son’s forehead, cheeks, arms and legs, hands became covered in hair,”mother Ángela Selles told the Spanish daily newspaper, El País.
“He had the eyebrows of an adult. It was very scary because we didn’t know what was happening to him.”
Selles’ six-month-old son was just one of 17 babies diagnosed with an acquired form of hypertrichosis in recent months across the regions of Cantabria, Valencia, Andalusia, and Granada.
Degrees of excess hair growth can run in families as a genetic trait, but this congenital form of the condition is usually fairly clear from birth. So, when children close to two years of age were being reported with thickened patches of hair on areas such as their face, Spain’s health regulator AEMPS opened an investigation to trace the cause.
It didn’t take officials long to find the infants had something in common – all were being treated with a medication for acid reflux called omeprazole.
The only problem is omeprazole isn’t known for causing excess hair growth. So inspectors were sent to the factory where the drug originated to see if they could work out what was going on.
“The original shipment of bulk omeprazole from India was analysed and the results showed that it was in perfect condition,“Spanish health regulators told El País.
“The problem was when it was divided into small batches that were later also sold in bulk.”
Somewhere in the process, bottles containing a different drug, minoxidil – commonly used to treat hair-loss conditions such as male pattern baldness and alopecia – ended up receiving the omeprazole label and being sold as such.
AEMPS directed the company to withdraw one of the batches of the medication back in July, but has since closed the factory for failure to comply with standards on drug production.
If Farma-Química Sur doesn’t clean up its act within the next six months, the company could have its license to produce and distribute pharmaceuticals revoked.
Meanwhile, families are still less than impressed, with four having launched criminal proceedings against the company for the mix up. A public prosecution case is also underway.
Fortunately for the children, the medical mishap shouldn’t leave them with any long-term health problems.
“They have done several tests and for now the liver is the only thing that is not great, but they have told us that it is not serious and that it will regenerate,”says Selles.
As for their body hair, it is also expected to thin out over the coming months.