Skip to main content
CNN Europe CNN Asia
On CNN TV Transcripts Headline News CNN International About Preferences
powered by Yahoo!
On The Scene

Dr. Sanjay Gupta: Ricin primer

CNN's Sanjay Gupta
CNN's Sanjay Gupta

   Story Tools


(CNN) -- Six suspects are being questioned by police in Britain after traces of ricin -- one of the world's deadliest poisons -- were discovered at a London address.

If inhaled, ricin can cause death within 36 to 48 hours from failure of the respiratory and circulatory systems. But, medical experts point out that ricin is nowhere near as powerful a killer as anthrax.

CNN Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta talked about ricin on Tuesday with CNN anchor Daryn Kagan.

GUPTA: It's not a toxin that we hear a lot about. We hear a lot about anthrax, we hear a lot about smallpox, things like that. But ricin is something that's been around for a while.

Simply put, it's a derivative of castor seed oils and it's a toxin that people have known about for quite some time. It can be absorbed across the skin. You can actually eat it. You can inhale it. You can get it in your bloodstream. Any of those possible things can lead to a real problem with toxicity.

That's the bad news. The good news is that when you talk about anthrax versus this ricin -- the same amount of anthrax, about one kilogram -- you would need four metric tons of ricin to produce the same effect. So a little bit of it really isn't going to create much of a problem.

Let's look at some of the symptoms that you'd actually have from that. You'd have fever, gastrointestinal problems -- this is any way that you got it, even across your skin, if you ate it, if you inhaled it -- and coughing and respiratory problems. That's where the real problem begins. That's where people could possibly die from this.

What this ricin does is, it causes this sort of scarring of your lungs. First, the coughing, then the scarring of the lungs. Your lungs fill up with fluid. And this all happens within hours. And if someone is going to die from ricin, which can happen, that's the way it typically occurs.

KAGAN: What about treatment if you're exposed to it?

GUPTA: There is no vaccine. There is no specific antibiotic. This isn't a bacteria. This isn't a virus. This is a different sort of toxin. So there's really no treatment.

What typically you have to do is someone has to get to a hospital. You have to stop the exposure, and then basically put the patient on a ventilator to try and support their breathing for them while the ricin exposure is going on.

KAGAN: A doctor, I would imagine, would have to know that this person has been exposed to ricin in order to properly treat (him or her), as we saw with the early anthrax attacks. A lot of doctors weren't really clued in on what that might be if it was presented to them.

GUPTA: That's right, and this is even a more unusual one. And people were sort of geared up on the anthrax, had their antennas up on that one. Ricin is even less common.

The point being, still, there is no treatment specifically for it. You'd still do all the same things. In hospital language we call it the A-B-C-Ds -- make sure they have an airway, make sure they're breathing, make sure the circulation is supported. All those things are still important with any kind of poisoning, ricin being no different than those.

Story Tools

Top Stories
Father guilty of killing 9 of his children
Top Stories
CNN/Money: Security alert issued for 40 million credit cards
© 2004 Cable News Network LP, LLLP.
A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines. Contact us.
external link
All external sites will open in a new browser. does not endorse external sites.