How do authorities confirm cases of suspected ricin poisoning?
- If authorities suspect that people have inhaled ricin, a potential clue would be that a large number of people who had been close to each other rapidly developed fever, cough, and excess fluid in their lungs. These symptoms would likely be followed by severe breathing problems and possibly death.
- If in suspected situations where ricin may have been disseminated, preliminary environmental testing by public health or law enforcement authorities detects ricin in powders or materials released into the immediate environment. Persons occupying such areas may initially be observed for signs of ricin poisoning.
- CDC can assess selected specimens on a provisional basis for urinary ricinine, an alkaloid in the castor bean plant. Only urinary ricinine testing is available at CDC or the LRN.
How ricin poisoning is treated
- Because no antidote exists for ricin, the most important factor is avoiding ricin exposure in the first place.
- If exposure cannot be avoided, the most important factor is then getting the ricin off or out of the body as quickly as possible.
- Symptomatic ricin poisoning is treated by giving victims supportive medical care to minimize the effects of the poisoning. The types of supportive medical care would depend on several factors, such as the route by which victims were poisoned (that is, whether poisoning was by inhalation, ingestion, or skin or eye exposure). Care could include such measures as helping victims breathe, giving them intravenous fluids (fluids given through a needle inserted into a vein), giving them medications to treat conditions such as seizure and low blood pressure, flushing their stomachs with activated charcoal (if the ricin has been very recently ingested), or washing out their eyes with water if their eyes are irritated.