Saturday, March 1, 2008
Ricin - what you should know
The poison Ricin was found in a Las Vegas Hotel room and one man is hospitalized and unconscious after exposure. Because it takes a deliberate act to poison with Ricin, this brings up concerns about National Security and many questions that are not yet answered.
Ricin is the "waste" mash left after Castor beans are processed into castor oil. Except for cancer research, there are no medical uses for Ricin. It is a stable structure and doesn't degrade in extreme temperatures. People can breathe in a Ricin mist or it can be swallowed in food or water or it could even be injected. As little as 500 micrograms (the size of the head of a pin) could be enough to kill an adult. It kills by getting inside the cells and preventing cells from making proteins.
Symptoms of Ricin poisoning depend upon the route of exposure and the dose. If inhaled, there would be respiratory distress, fever, cough, nausea and chest tightness within hours, leading to full respiratory collapse and death. Ingested ricin would cause vomiting and bloody diarrhea leading to major organ failure and death.
There is no antidote for ricin but supportive medical care (intensive IV fluids, respiratory support) can save people who have low exposure if started before shock sets in. There are no tests to confirm that a person has been exposed to Ricin.
In terms of bioterrorism, Ricin is easy to produce but is not considered as powerful a threat as botulinum or anthrax. Those substances can have more of a widespread effect, but are more difficult to obtain.
Hopefully this guy will live so authorities can question him about why he has this dangerous substance. He's been in the hospital, probably on a respirator, for two weeks. Right now there are more questions than answers.
Posted by Toni Brayer, MD at 7:30 AM