Ricin (cont.)

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 as early as 4- 8 hours and as late as 24 hours after exposure. Following ingestion of ricin, initial symptoms typically occur in less than 10 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 should seek medical care.
  • Ingestion: If someone swallows a significant amount of ricin, he or she would likely 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 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 is unlikely to be absorbed through normal skin. Contact with ricin powders or products may cause redness and pain of the skin and the eyes. However, if you touch ricin that is on your skin and then eat food with your hands or put your hands in your mouth, you may ingest some.

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.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 5/9/2013

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Ricin - Signs and Symptoms Question: Symptoms of exposure to ricin mimic other illnesses. Have you ever suspected you've been exposed to ricin?
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