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Ricin: The Chemical and the Threat

Author(s): Christopher Burnett

What are the symptoms of exposure?

The physiological symptoms of ricin poisoning depend on the method and timing of administration, as well as the dosage. When injected with ricin, victim may begin to experience symptoms, including general weakness and muscle pain. As the illness progresses, a person may experience vomiting, fever and low blood pressure, all potentially culminating in multisystem organ failure and death.
Inhaled ricin is inhaled may cause symptoms within about eight hours, including difficulty breathing, fever, coughing, nausea and tightness in the chest. Low blood pressure and respiratory failure associated with this form of ricin poisoning may be fatal.
Ingested ricin can produce nausea, vomiting, and sometimes, bloody diarrhea within 12 hours. The victim will experience severe dehydration and low blood pressure, and possibly seizures. Fatal liver and/or kidney failure are possible within days.
Because the symptoms of ricin poisoning resemble those of other, more common gastrointestinal and respiratory afflictions, diagnosis requires confirmation of exposure through specialized testing. Multiple, similar cases clustered together can help to determine the source.