Agent Identification - Biological


Toxins or poisonous substances may be produced by plants or animals as a protective defense or can be chemically synthesized. They are nonliving organisms but are considered chemical compounds. Delivery may occur in an aerosol format and while they are not inherently contagious they may be used by a terrorist because they are colorless and odorless foiling easy discovery or apprehension.

Ricin is one of these substances derived from a protein extract of the castor bean. Contact may occur through inhalation or ingestion, although at least one death has been purported of assassination utilizing dermal injection of ricin with a poisoned umbrella tip. Inhalation exposure causes fever, cough, chest pain, dyspnea and pulmonary edema progressing to death while the ingested manner results in nausea, vomiting diarrhea hemorrhage and death. No vaccine is currently available and treatment is mainly supportive.

Botulism is caused by the production of the powerful neurotoxin from C. Botulinum. Contact may occur through inhalation or ingestion with descending bulbar palsies and paralysis. Initial symptoms may begin with generalized weakness, and dizziness followed by: dry mouth, visual blurring, diploplia and dysarthria. Respiratory failure can occur from diaphragmatic muscle paralysis beginning 24-36 hours after exposure. A vaccine is in development.

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