In this Article
- What is ricin?
- Where is ricin found, and how is it used?
- How are people exposed to ricin?
- How does ricin work?
- What are the signs and symptoms of ricin exposure?
- What is the treatment for ricin poisoning?
- How can someone know if they've been exposed to ricin?
- How can people protect themselves? What should someone do if they are exposed to ricin?
- For more information
- Find a local Doctor in your town
How does ricin work
- Ricin works by getting inside the cells of a person's body and preventing the cells from making the proteins they need. Without the proteins, cells die. Eventually this is harmful to the whole body, and death may occur.
- Effects of ricin poisoning depend on whether ricin was inhaled, ingested, or injected.
Signs and symptoms of ricin exposure
- The major symptoms of ricin poisoning depend on the route of exposure and the dose received, though many organs may be affected in severe cases.
- Initial symptoms of ricin poisoning by inhalation may occur within 8 hours of exposure. Following ingestion of ricin, initial symptoms typically occur in less than 6 hours.
- Inhalation: Within a few hours of inhaling significant amounts of ricin, the likely symptoms would be respiratory distress (difficulty breathing), fever, cough, nausea, and tightness in the chest. Heavy sweating may follow as well as fluid building up in the lungs (pulmonary edema). This would make breathing even more difficult, and the skin might turn blue. Excess fluid in the lungs would be diagnosed by x-ray or by listening to the chest with a stethoscope. Finally, low blood pressure and respiratory failure may occur, leading to death. In cases of known exposure to ricin, people having respiratory symptoms that started within 12 hours of inhaling ricin should seek medical care.
- Ingestion: If someone swallows a significant amount of ricin, he or she would develop vomiting and diarrhea that may become bloody. Severe dehydration may be the result, followed by low blood pressure. Other signs or symptoms may include hallucinations, seizures, and blood in the urine. Within several days, the person's liver, spleen, and kidneys might stop working, and the person could die.
- Skin and eye exposure: Ricin in the powder or mist form can cause redness and pain of the skin and the eyes.
- Death from ricin poisoning could take place within 36 to 72 hours of exposure, depending on the route of exposure (inhalation, ingestion, or injection) and the dose received. If death has not occurred in 3 to 5 days, the victim usually recovers.
- Showing these signs and symptoms does not necessarily mean that a person has been exposed to ricin.
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