Symptoms from exposure to ricin depend on the route of exposure and the amount of absorption. Routes of exposure are respiratory (inhaled aerosol), gastrointestinal (GI [ingested]), and injected (percutaneous).
- If exposed to ricin through inhaled aerosol, it will most likely affect numerous individuals simultaneously. In this case, a cluster of people would develop similar symptoms over a brief period, typically within 8 hours following inhalation. Such an occurrence would point to the possibility of an intentional act. People exposed to the ricin may experience symptoms such as fever, nausea, and vomiting, a progressively severe cough, and congestion in the nose and the throat. Other symptoms associated with inhalation of ricin include difficulty breathing and tightness in the chest. With significant exposure to ricin, breathing difficulties occur within 12-24 hours. A chest X-ray may reveal excess fluid in the lungs.
- If exposed to ricin by ingesting contaminated foods or beverages, symptoms may initially mimic food poisoning, usually within 6 hours after ingestion. People who ingested ricin may have abdominal pain, often accompanied by vomiting and diarrhea. Because of this, they may also become dehydrated. Although ingesting ricin is usually less toxic than exposure through inhalation, with significant amounts of the poison, resulting symptoms may become more severe and possibly result in death.
- People injected with ricin, either in pellet form or with it dissolved in a liquid, may experience pain and swelling at the injection site. They may experience other flulike symptoms as well, such as nausea, vomiting, and body aches. More severe symptoms will occur later and a critical life-threatening syndrome will develop.
- Death from ricin poisoning may occur 36 to 72 hours after exposure. The type of exposure also determines the speed, severity, and type of symptoms that will develop.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 4/24/2015
Ferdinando L Mirarchi, DO
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