Medical Definition of Tabun

Reviewed on 6/3/2021

Tabun: Tabun or GA is an extremely toxic chemical substance. It is classified as a nerve agent because it fatally interferes with normal functioning of the mammalian nervous system. As a chemical weapon, it is classified as a weapon of mass destruction by the United Nations according to UN Resolution 687, and its production is strictly controlled and stockpiling outlawed by the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1993. Tabun is the first of the so-called G-series nerve agents along with GB (sarin), GD (soman) and GF (cyclosarin).

A man-made chemical warfare agent classified as a nerve agent. Nerve agents are the most toxic and rapidly acting of the known chemical warfare agents. They are similar to pesticides (insect killers) called organophosphates in terms of how they work and what kinds of harmful effects they cause. However, nerve agents are much more potent than organophosphate pesticides. Tabun was originally developed as a pesticide in Germany in 1936. Tabun is also known as "GA."

Tabun is a clear, colorless, tasteless liquid with a faint fruity odor. Tabun can become a vapor if heated. Tabun is not found naturally in the environment. Following release of tabun into the air, people can be exposed through skin contact, eye contact, or inhalation (breathing in the tabun). Tabun mixes easily with water, so it could be used to poison water. Following release of tabun into water, people can be exposed by drinking contaminated water or getting contaminated water on their skin. Following contamination of food with tabun, people can be exposed by eating the contaminated food. A person's clothing can release tabun for about 30 minutes after contact with tabun vapor, which can lead to exposure of other people.

Tabun breaks down slowly in the body, meaning that repeated exposures to tabun and/or other nerve agents can have a cumulative effect (build up in the body). Because tabun vapor is heavier than air, it will sink to low-lying areas and create a greater exposure hazard there. Tabun is an immediate but short-lived threat and does not last a long time in the environment.

Although tabun has a faint fruity odor, the odor may not be noticeable enough to give people sufficient warning about a toxic exposure. People exposed to a low or moderate dose of tabun by inhalation, ingestion (swallowing), or skin absorption may experience some or all of the following symptoms within seconds to hours of exposure:

Even a tiny drop of nerve agent on the skin can cause sweating and muscle twitching where the agent touched the skin. Exposure to a large dose of tabun by any route may result in these additional health effects:
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Convulsions
  • Paralysis
  • Respiratory failure possibly leading to death
Showing these signs and symptoms does not necessarily mean that a person has been exposed to tabun. Treatment consists of removing tabun from the body as soon as possible and providing supportive medical care in a hospital setting. Antidotes are available for tabun. They are most useful if given as soon as possible after exposure.



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