Ricin Found In Letter For Obama, Senator Roger Wicker: Top 5 Facts To Know About Deadly Toxin

By Staff Reporter on April 17, 2013 4:13 PM EDT

Ricin
Ricin structure with sugars. (Photo: Creative Commons)

Ricin, a dangerous, highly toxic, naturally occurring protein, was detected in a letter that was addressed to President Barack Obama. Authorities announced that ricin was found in an envelope being handled at a remote White House mail screening facility on Tuesday.

ABC reports that a sophisticated mail-handling facility is dedicated to White House mail. The remote operation identifies letters and parcels that require secondary screening or even scientific testing before delivery is approved.

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President Barack Obama was not the only target on Tuesday. A separate Senate mail-handling facility discovered another letter potentially laced with ricin that was addressed to Republican Mississippi Senator Roger Wicker. The letter to Wicker was postmarked from Memphis.

"The investigation into these letters remains ongoing, and more letters may still be received," the FBI said in a statement this morning. "There is no indication of a connection to the attack in Boston."

"It is important to note that operations at the White House have not been affected as a result of the investigation," continued the FBI statement. "Additionally, filters at a second government mail screening facility preliminarily tested positive for ricin this morning. Mail from that facility is being tested."

The nation is at high alert following the tragic Boston Marathon bombing in an attempt to identify and stop any further attacks on Americans. The latest discoveries of ricin-laced letters will no doubt further intensify security measures.

Here are five facts you need to know about ricin:

5.) Ricin is a toxic, naturally occurring protein derived from the castor-oil plant. Ricin is manufactured by the purification of the leftover oil extracted from the plant's seeds.  

Ricin can enter cells of a person's body, inhibiting protein synthesis. Without protein, cells will die. A dose of ricin as small as just a few grains of table salt (500 micrograms) is already capable of killing an adult.

4.) Ricin poisoning can only take place from a deliberate attack. Death from unintended exposure to ricin is highly unlikely.

Assassins or terrorists can choose a variety of ricin attacks. Ricin can be inhaled in mist or powder form, injected from a pellet, or ingested if dissolved in a glass of water.

"In the 1940s, the U.S. military experimented with using ricin as a possible warfare agent," said the Center for Disease Control (CDC). "In some reports ricin has possibly been used as a warfare agent in the 1980s in Iraq and more recently by terrorist organizations."

3.) Symptoms of ricin poisoning can occur 12 hours after exposure. Common symptom of ricin poisoning by inhalation is respiratory distress. Fevers, coughs, nausea and the tightening of the chest are all symptoms of ricin poisoning.

As the body deteriorates from ricin poisoning, symptoms may also include heavy sweating and fluid build-up within the lungs. Breathing will be further complicated and skin may turn blue. Eventually, low blood pressure and respiratory failure will lead to death.

2.) A victim that has swallowed a substantial amount of ricin may develop symptoms including vomiting and bloody diarrhea. Severe dehydration and low blood pressure follow. Other symptoms of ricin ingestion include hallucinations, seizures, and blood in the urine. In days, a victim may suffer organ failure. If the liver, spleen, and kidneys stop working, the victim may die.

Ricin death could take place within 36 to 72 hours.

1.) There is no known cure for ricin poisoning. So far, scientists have created an antidote for lab mice. The test involved the injection of ricin mixed with antibody-rich blood into the creatures. However, human testing is incomplete. According to DC Military, no tested human antidote for ricin exists.

If exposure is detected, it is important to get ricin off or out of the body as quickly as possible.

Medical care to aid respiration, treat seizures and low blood pressure must be administered. Doctors may also flush a victim's stomach to remove the poison from the body.

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