School Closings And Delays

E.R. Doctor Explains Chemicals Found In D.C. Mail

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PLAINS TOWNSHIP -- The ricin scare is bringing back memories of the deadly anthrax attacks in 2001 when contaminated letters mailed throughout the northeast left five people dead.

It's been over a decade seen we've heard about the threat of biological weapons being sent through the mail.

Now, two letters have tested positive for ricin. One was sent to a lawmaker at the U.S. Capitol and one was sent to the president.

Newswatch 16 spoke with a doctor in Luzerne County who worked near Washington, D.C. during the anthrax attacks in 2001

Dr. Brian Saracino works in the emergency department at Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center near Wilkes-Barre.  He previously served as a doctor in the Air Force and that's where he received training to treat victims of biological warfare.

"They say that if you have enough ricin to cover the head of a pin, that is enough to kill an adult," Dr. Saracino said.

Emergency room doctors still do not have an antidote for ricin.  Dr. Saracino says the toxic protein is incredibly difficult to get and there have only been a handful of recorded fatalities from ricin.  Even though the risk is minimal, Dr. Saracino says it can be an effective weapon in the wrong hands.

"It interferes with the cells making a protein. What happens is, without that protein, cells die. Most symptoms depend on the route of exposure; whether or not you touched it through your skin, through ingestion or inhaled it."

Because ricin poisoning is so rare Dr. Saracinio says it is often difficult to diagnose and can be confused with other contagious illnesses such as the flu that we can pick up when exposed to sick people in public places.