WASHINGTON, D.C. -- In response to the recent discovery of ricin in a U.S. Senate building, the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC) seeks to provide the public with fundamental facts about ricin and sources for further information.
According to Judy English, chairperson of APIC's Bioterrorism and Emerging Infections Task Force, "While the discovery of ricin in Senator William Frist's Dirksen Senate Office Building was cause for alarm, it is important to temper those concerns with facts regarding ricin's lack of contagiousness and the actions people should take if they have been exposed."
What is Ricin?
-- Ricin is a toxic protein made from castor beans.
-- Although it has some medical uses for cancer treatment, ricin is a toxic substance that is dangerous if inhaled, ingested or injected.
-- Ricin can be found in various forms, including as a powder, mist or pellet, or when dissolved in water or weak acid.
Signs and Symptoms of Ricin Exposure
-- Initial symptoms may be difficult for healthcare professionals to diagnose if exposure is not suspected. Death can occur within 36 to 72 hours, depending on the exposure.
-- If inhaled, symptoms may occur within 8 hours and may include respiratory distress, fever, cough, nausea, chest tightness, and sore muscles. Low blood pressure and respiratory failure may eventually lead to death.
-- If ingested, symptoms typically occur within 6 hours and the patient would experience vomiting and diarrhea that may become bloody. This could lead to severe dehydration and low blood pressure. Other signs and symptoms may include hallucination, seizures, and blood in the urine. Within days, liver, spleen and kidneys may cease to work and lead to death.
-- Showing signs and symptoms does not necessarily mean that a person has been exposed to ricin.
-- If death has not occurred within 3 to 5 days, victims usually recover.
-- Recovery is possible if the patient was not exposed to a lethal amount. The following immediate steps will minimize effects of the poison:
Treatment is supportive and depends on the manner in which the victim was poisoned:
-- If skin and eyes are exposed, decontaminate skin by applying for 15 minutes copious amounts of soap and water and/or a weak bleach solution (0.1% sodium hypochlorite). Then flush with water or sterile saline solution.
-- If clothes are exposed to ricin, remove clothing quickly but carefully. Any clothing that has to be pulled over the head should be cut off instead. Place clothing into a sealed plastic bag to avoid contaminating others and secure as evidence. Individuals willing to help a ricin victim should wear a protective barrier such as latex gloves to avoid self contamination.
-- If inhaled, get fresh air by moving out of the area where ricin was released and seek medical attention immediately.
-- If ingested or injected, seek medical attention immediately.
For more information, contact the following:
-- Regional Poison Control Center (1-800-222-1222)
-- Most 911 lines have poison control information
-- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Public Response Hotline:
English (888) 246-2675
Spanish (888) 246-2857
TTY (866) 874-2646
APIC is a non-profit, international organization that seeks to influence, support and improve the quality of health care through the practice and management of infection control and healthcare epidemiology. Based in Washington, D.C., APIC (www.apic.org) has more than 110 regional chapters in the U.S. and over 12,000 members worldwide.