Ricin is a poison made from the waste left over from processing castor beans . It can be in powder form, mist, pellet and can be dissolved in water or weak acid. As a stable subtance, Ricin is not affected by extreme conditions.
It would take a deliberate act for a person to use Ricin as a weapon to poison people. Accidental exposure is highly unlikely. Ricin can be inhaled, swallowed, injected; however, it is not spread person-to-person by casual contact. Signs of exposure usually occur within 6-8 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 that started within 12 hours of inhaling ricin should seek medical care.
- Ingestion: If someone swallows a significant amount of ricin, he or she would 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 hallucinations, 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 in the powder or mist form can cause redness and pain of the skin and the eyes.
- 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. If death has not occurred in 3 to 5 days, the victim usually recovers.
- Showing these signs and symptoms does not necessarily mean that a person has been exposed to ricin.
Source: Centers for Disease Control
Get more information on Ricin from the Centers for Disease Control.