The Negative Effects of Ricin on Human Body

ricinRicin is a highly poisonous chemical that is found naturally in castor beans. It takes the pulp of about 8 castor beans to kill an adult. It’s 1,500 times more lethal than cyanide and 500 times more potent than cobra venom. The equivalent of a grain of salt is enough to kill an adult, and a lethal dose causes death in around 3 days. It can be in the form of a mist, powder, or a pellet or it can be dissolved in weak acid or water. It’s a stable substance under normal conditions, but it can be inactivated by heating it above 80 degrees Centigrade.

The waste from the manufacture of castor, called waste mash, contains around 5 – 10% ricin by weight, but it’s usually heated during processing and as a result the ricin is inactivated (made non-toxic).

How does ricin work?

how ricin works

Schematic diagram of anti-Ricin molecules immobilized onto surface of the skin

Ricin works by entering into the cells of the body where it inhibits protein synthesis, and its toxic effects harm most of the body tissues. It damages most of the organ systems and causes a combination of renal,

liver, pulmonary and immunological failure that may lead to death. It takes 4 to 8 hours to incubate after being inhaled or ingested, so the victim wouldn’t necessarily realize that they were in potential danger at the moment of contact.

What are the symptoms of ricin poisoning?

The severity of the illness and onset of symptoms of ricin poisoning depends on the dose received and the route of exposure. Small doses of ricin may take 1 to 2 days to cause symptoms, while large doses of ricin can cause severe symptoms within several hours.

Inhalation

ricin_poisoning_inhaled

When s person inhales ricin, the symptoms normally develop within the first 8 hours and they are likely to include fever, nausea, heavy sweating, cough and difficulty in breathing. Respiratory failure and very low blood pressure may occur, leading to death.

Ingestion

ricin_poisoning_ingested

When a person swallows ricin, the symptoms normally develop within the first 6 hours, and they typically include vomiting and diarrhea which may be bloody. Other symptoms that may be present include seizures, hallucinations, bloody urine, severe dehydration and very low blood pressure.

Eye and skin exposure

Ricin is not likely to be absorbed through intact skin, but skin contact with ricin products or powders may cause local pain and redness of the eyes and skin.

Injection

There is at least one report of an individual being intentionally injected with a ricin pellet and it resulted in their death.

How is ricin poisoning treated?

There isn’t any specific antidote for ricin poisoning. Treatment is only supportive and varies with the route (inhalation, ingestion, or injection) the victim was exposed to ricin. Medical care could include such measures as administration of intravenous fluids, helping the victim breathe, administration of medications to treat low blood pressure or seizures, irrigation of the eyes or flushing of stomach contents.

How can a person be exposed to ricin?

Ricin-Poisoning-SymptomsIt is highly unlikely that a person can be accidentally exposed to ricin. It would take an intentional act to use ricin as a poison. A person can be poisoned by breathing in powder, ricin or mist. A person can also be poisoned by swallowing ricin contaminated water or food. Ricin may also enter the body through a person’s skin when the skin is damaged or it’s combined with certain chemicals. Ricin dissolved in a liquid or pellets of ricin can also be injected into a person’s body.

How can you protect yourself and what should you do if you are exposed to ricin?

  1. Leave the area where ricin was released and get fresh air immediately. If the ricin was released outside, move away from the ricin contaminated area immediately. If the ricin was released indoors, get out of the ricin contaminated building immediately.
  2. If you think that you may have been exposed to the ricin poison, you should remove your clothes, quickly wash your whole body with water and soap, and get medical attention as soon as possible.
  3. If you have any clothing that you have to remove by pulling it over your head, cut it off your body and if you are assisting someone who has been exposed to ricin avoid touching any contaminated items. The illness caused by ricin poisoning cannot be spread from person to person. However, contact with people or surfaces contaminated with ricin may transfer the poison and cause illness.

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