News reports that a suspicious letter sent to President Barack Obama
on Wednesday tested positive for the poison ricin are raising several questions about the highly toxic pathogen.
The letter was intercepted at a processing facility the day after a similar letter, that one addressed to Sen. Roger Wicker, was found to contain traces of ricin in the form of white granular particles.
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"Monday's attack in Boston reminded us that terrorism can still strike anywhere at any time," Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement Wednesday. "And as yesterday’s news of an attempt to send ricin to the Capitol reminds us, it is as important as ever to take the steps necessary to protect Americans from those who would do us harm."
Though ricin has been a bioterrorism warfare tool for decades, the average American is probably not familiar with the substance.
Here are some things you need to know about ricin.
What is it?
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, ricin is a poison
found naturally in castor beans, and can be derived from the waste product, called "mash," left over when castor beans are processed to make castor oil. It can be in the form of a powder, a mist, or a pellet, or it can be dissolved in water or weak acid.
Is it deadly?
Yes. If ingested, inhaled, or injected, a dose as small as a few grains of salt can kill an adult human. Ricin works by getting inside the cells of a person's body and preventing the cells from making the proteins they need. Without the proteins, cells die. Eventually this is harmful to the whole body, and death occurs.
What are the physical symptoms of ricin poisoning?
It depends on how ricin enters the body. Inhaled ricin can cause breathing difficulties, fever, cough, and nausea. Ingested ricin can cause vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, and seizures. Symptoms can appear as early as four hours and as late as 24 hours after exposure. Death can occur between three and six days after exposure.
Can ricin poisoning be treated?
There is no remedy used to treat ricin poisoning.
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