Self-Care at Home
- If there is any possibility you have been exposed to ricin, you need to seek immediate medical attention.
- To avoid possible contamination after a likely exposure, remove and dispose of any clothing, and thoroughly wash your skin with lots of soap and water. If your eyes are irritated, wash them out with water.
Exams and Tests
A diagnosis of ricin exposure, is based primarily on symptoms and the likelihood of an exposure having happened.
In cases where the exposure is likely to have come from an injection, diagnosis is extremely difficult. In addition, diagnostic testing has limited value. There are some sophisticated diagnostic tests that can identify ricin in the body up to 24 hours after exposure. Those tests, though, are not widely available, and in general, there are no tests currently used that can definitively confirm exposure. Nevertheless, you will most likely undergo a complete physical examination by a doctor.
Regardless of how you were exposed, treatment will mainly be supportive since there is no antidote or vaccine for ricin.
- If exposure is from inhaling the ricin, you may need assistance with breathing. If your breathing problems are severe, you may need to have a breathing tube inserted into your trachea so a mechanical ventilator can help you breathe.
- If ricin was consumed, the health care team may pump your stomach. You may also be given superactivated charcoal to help soak up the poison. You also will receive fluids intravenously to treat dehydration.
- You may receive medications to treat seizures and low blood pressure.
- If exposure was by injection, your doctor may give you antibiotics to prevent infection. You may also receive a tetanus shot as a precautionary measure.
Surgical care is not necessary for exposure to ricin unless it was injected. If it was, the injection site should be evaluated to see whether a foreign object is present. If so, the object will need to be surgically removed.
Depending on the severity of the symptoms, you may be admitted to the hospital for monitoring.
The only effective prevention against the effects of an attack with ricin is avoidance; unfortunately, no antidote or vaccine exists. Currently, studies are ongoing to find possible vaccines and ricin inhibitors. Protective masks have been shown to be effective in preventing toxicity during an aerosol attack.
Depending on the dose and the means of exposure, death can occur within 36-72 hours following the time of exposure. If death has not occurred within 3-5 days, recovery is likely.
For More Information
For more information and help if you or someone in your vicinity is exposed, contact the Regional Poison Control Center by calling (800) 222-1222.