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Delaware Health Alert Network #70

February 3, 2004 5:45 pm

Health Advisory

On Monday, February 2, 2004, powder was found in a mail processing room in the Dirksen Senate office building in Washington D.C.; Confirmatory testing of environmental samples is pending, but preliminary testing strongly suggests ricin.

At this time, there is no known direct impact on Delaware. However, the Division of Public Health (DPH) is advising the medical community of this event and providing information about ricin as a prudent measure.

Signs and Symptoms

Ricin is a potent cytotoxin derived from the beans of the castor plant.

Inhalation: respiratory irritation or cough and respiratory distress, followed by pulmonary edema, respiratory failure, and multisystem organ failure. Weakness and influenza-like-illness of fever, myalgia, and arthralgia may be noted.

Ingestion: profuse vomiting and diarrhea, which may or may not be bloody, followed by hypovolemic shock and multisystem organ failure. Weakness and influenza-like-illness of fever, myalgia, and arthralgia may be noted.

Laboratory Tests

There is no test for clinical specimens.  The DPH laboratory is equipped to test for the cytotoxin in environmental samples only.

DPH continues to conduct daily syndromic surveillance with all acute care hospitals in Delaware to assist in the detection of unusual patient syndrome clusters, such as would be observed in ricin poisoning.

For More Information

  • Attached (for email recipients) is a one-page fact sheet suitable for posting.
  • Additional information can be found on the CDC website at:
  • Questions about this health alert should be directed to DPH at 1-888-295-5156.  This phone number is answered during normal business hours, and is also answered for emergencies during non-normal business hours.

Categories of Health Alert messages:

  • Health Alert: Conveys the highest level of importance; warrants immediate action or attention.
  • Health Advisory: Provides important information for a specific incident or situation; may not require immediate action.
  • Health Update: Provides updated information regarding an incident or situation; unlikely to require immediate action.
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