Ricin – a phytotoxin extracted from Riccinus communis(Castor Plant) has gained attention in recent times as US intelligence revealed that major anti-national groups have planned to use it as a biological weapon to endanger lives of people around the world.This article provides all essential information about Ricin, the toxalbumin, symptoms of exposure, protecting yourself from further exposure and treatment of accidental exposure to ricin.

What is Ricin How It Works ?

Ricin is a phytotoxin found in all parts of the plant Riccinus communis(Castor plant) more abundantly in it’s seeds. On exposure to Ricin in powdered form, via any route, the excretion is via intestinal epithelium. With the help of a special binding protein, ricin gains entry into endoplasmic reticulum , inhibits RNA polymerase and thereby blocks protein synthesis. This in turn results in severe diarrhoea due to involvement of mucosal cells.

What are the signs and symptoms of ricin poisoning ?

On exposure to Ricin dust the most common form employed by terrorists, it causes watering of eyes, conjunctivitis, sneezing, acute nasal inflamation, headache, pharngitis, asthmatic bronchitis, dermatitis and gastric upset.

On accidental oral ingestion, burning sensation appears first in mouth , throat and oral mucosa, followed by salivation, nausea, vomitting, bloody diarrhoea, abdominal pain, thirst, impaired sight, weak rapid pulse, cramps in calves, delirium, convulsions,  shallow breathing,  uraemia, jaundice,  dehydration, collapse and death.

Will Ricin exposure cause Death ?

While instant death is unlikely with ricin, a sudden exposure to toxic doses of Ricin can cause death. The toxic dose of Ricin is 7-10 seeds(crushed) or about 6mg of Ricin. Death on exposure to toxic doses of Ricin occurs in two days to  week or more.

How Ricin causes Death ?

Ricin causes hemolysis of Red Blood Cells. Spontaneous hemorrhage occurs in pleura, the covering of lungs. Oedema of other organs like spleen , Liver and kidney may also occur.

Treating Ricin Poisoning and Protecting Yourself:

On suspected exposure to any powdery substance causing above mentioned symptoms, it would be wise to terminate exposure. Consult a health care provide as early as early as possible who may suggest Gastric lavage, activated charcoal or just sympotomatic management depending on the mode and extent of exposure.

Ricin,  Castor Plant Images: