What is ricin? That's a question many are asking after letters addressed to President Barack Obama and U.S. Senators have come back positive for poisonous ricin in field tests. Below are 7 things to know about ricin:
1) What is it?
Potent biological protein toxin It inhibits the body from making protein resulting in cell death Category B bioterrorism agent and Schedule I chemical warfare agent Ricin is derived from the waste made during the processing of castor oil from beans from the castor plant Can be found powder, aerosolized, pellets, liquid
2) How it is transmitted
Can be ingested, injected, inhaled, swallowed, skin contact Inhalation (esp. aerosolized): Very potent and most lethal form of Ricin; leads to more rapid onset of symptoms; it can remained in undisturbed air for several hours
3) How is Ricin detected?
Ricin in a letter is usually the powder form, which can be inhaled (powder becomes aerosolized if letter is open) or the ricin can come in direct contact with the skin AVOID opening, moving, or touching the letter or package to prevent aerozolization If a letter is laced with Ricin (as in this current situation) If a postal worker notices a "white powder" or if a sensor picks up a signal, they will isolate the package Certain locations in US, such as post offices and government buildings, use sensors to test for traces of agents such as Ricin in letters and packages The postal office will first requests a HAZMAT to the site The site is surveyed and screened (with a sensor if not already performed) If a signal is positive ? a sample of the suspicious agent is sent to the Laboratory Response Network (LRN) for testing The FBI, local law enforcement, and local emergency management officials are notified Is samples test positive for Ricin at LRN, then it may be sent to the CDC for further testing and public health officials are notified
4) What happens when exposed to Ricin?
Rapid, progressive symptoms within 1 to 36 hours from time of exposure, though there can be an incubation period (time between exposure and development of symptoms) of 4 to 12 hours Death can occur within 36 hours of exposure, sooner if it is inhaled If death does not occur by 5 days, then victim likely to recover
5) Symptoms after exposure?
Death can occur effects can occur within 36 to 72 hours of exposure The onset of symptoms and severity usually depends on route (inhalation vs injection vs ingestion), earlier onset when inhaled Inhalation, ingestion, and injection cause similar symptoms Mild symptoms - nausea, vomiting, can be seen within 1-6 hours of exposure Flu-like symptoms Respiratory distress, may start with cough Sweating Cyanosis (turning blue due to lack of oxygen) Blood in urine Seizures Hallucinations (ingestion) Multi-organ failure Death If a patient hasn't died in 3 to 5 days, then they will likely survive
6) How do you diagnosis patients with Ricin exposure?
History of potential exposure Symptoms Basic labs: complete blood count, chemistries, liver test Specific testing for Ricin is perform using antibodies and DNA matching; not always immediately available and may take long
7) How do you treat patients with Ricin exposure?
No antidote Remove Ricin from skin (flush eyes and skin) and air (open windows, move to another location) as soon as possible If inhaled, sit patient upright, provide oxygen; may need to place patient on ventilator If ingested, give activated charcoal as soon as possible. Also remove stomach contents and give fluids. Protect head in case of seizures
Source: ABC News Medical Unit