Ricin is a lethal poison that is considered a potential bioterror threat. It is made from castor bean extract, a byproduct of castor oil production, and can come in the form of a powder, mist or pellet or be dissolved in water or weak acid.
Depending on how the ricin is given, victims develop fever, nausea and abdominal pain or lung damage, and die within a few days of exposure. There is no antidote after the first few hours of exposure, and because symptoms do not appear until later and can mimic other illnesses, people often do not know they have been exposed until it is too late for treatment.
In recent years, there have been several incidents involving ricin in the United States and Europe. In 2004, three US Senate office buildings were closed after ricin was found in the mailroom of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's office. There were no injuries reported.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) classifies ricin as a Category B biological agent, meaning it is "relatively easy to disseminate."
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