The seriousness of poisoning caused by ricin depends on the
purity of the ricin used, the amount of ricin a person comes into contact with,
the length of time that a person is exposed and the way a person comes into
contact with it. If ricin is injected or inhaled (breathed in), as little as
500 micrograms of ricin – an amount that would fit on the head of a pin – could
be enough to kill an adult. A greater amount would likely be needed to kill
someone if the ricin was put in food or drink.
Treatment for ricin poisoning
Prevention of illness after contact:
First, leave the area where the ricin was released and move to fresh air.
*Quickly take off clothing that may
have ricin on it. If possible, any clothing that has to be pulled over the head
should be cut off the body instead so the ricin does not get near the eyes,
mouth or nose. If helping other people remove their clothing, try to avoid
touching any areas that may have ricin on them, and remove the clothing as fast
Wash affected areas.
*As quickly as possible, wash any
ricin from the skin with lots of soap and water.
*If the eyes are burning or vision
is blurred, rinse the eyes with plain water for 10 to 15 minutes.
*If contact lenses are worn, remove
them and put them with the clothing. Do not put the contacts back in. If
eyeglasses are worn, wash them with soap and water. Eyeglasses can be put back
on after they are washed.
Discard contaminated items.
*Place the clothing and any other
contaminated items that may have come into contact with ricin inside a plastic
bag. Avoid touching them by wearing rubber gloves, turning the bag inside out
and using it to pick up the clothing, or putting the clothing in the bag using
tongs, tool handles, sticks or similar objects. Anything that touches the
contaminated clothing should also be placed in the bag.
*Seal the bag, and then seal that
bag inside another plastic bag.
*Contact the local county health
department right away. The health department or emergency personnel
will arrange for further disposal. Do not handle the
plastic bags yourself.
If someone has ingested ricin, do
not make the person vomit and do not give fluids to drink.
Treatment of illness: There is no specific treatment for ricin poisoning. After
poisoning, it is important to get the ricin out of the body as quickly as possible.
Supportive care in a hospital is the standard treatment.
Medical care could include helping
victims , giving them intravenous fluids, giving them medications to treat
conditions such low blood pressure, flushing their stomachs with activated
charcoal (a substance that binds with the poison in the stomach) or washing
their eyes with water. Acetaminophen for
fever, and cough suppressants may make the patient more comfortable. Hydration
is important. For those with pulmonary intoxification, respiratory support may
be necessary. Standard management techniques for oral poisoning should be used
if the toxin is ingested.
There is no vaccine for ricin poisoning.
Rapid diagnostic assay
Nasal or throat swabs and respiratory secretions may be collected for toxin assay. Blood for serum may be collected. Toxin assays and measurement of antibody response can be performed on serum. ELISA's are available
for the detection of ricin. If ricin is use as a weapon, clustering of patients with
similar symptoms may be the first and only clue.