Girl’s Fatal Poisoning After Taking Vitamin C
A story about a young Macau girl’s death made headlines. For unknown reasons, she began hemorrhaging from seven holes. By the time the night ended, she died. An extensive autopsy uncovered that the fatality occurred as a result of accidental arsenic fatal poisoning.
Innocent Foods Led to Deadly Combination
When examining the contents of the girl’s stomach, the pathologist discovered that she had been using vitamin C supplements. The night before the fatality, she also consumed shrimp. The vitamin C and the shrimp together caused a chemical reaction. Shrimp and other shellfish contain high amounts of an organic compound known as five potassium arsenic or arsenic pentoxide, which is considered non-toxic. However, when mixed with vitamin C, the substance transforms into three potassium arsenic or arsenic trioxide, which led to the fatal poisoning.
The element arsenic is classified as a metal that may combine with either inorganic or organic substances. Under most circumstances, arsenic found in organic substances has minimal toxicity. Arsenic in varying amounts is commonly found in natural bodies of water, fruits, vegetables, rice, seafood and shellfish. The contamination often takes place secondary to an industrial source. According to FDA standards, organic substances must have arsenic levels of less than 10 parts per billion in order to be deemed safe for human consumption.
Types of Exposure
Humans are exposed to arsenic by inhaling particles, consuming contaminated beverages and foods or by direct skin contact. Trace amounts of the element are commonly found in the environment and within foods. Arsenic levels tend to be higher around areas having industrial development.
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Arsenic Poisoning Symptoms
When exposed to unsafe levels of inorganic or organic arsenic, individuals begin suffering a variety of symptoms that include:
• Abdominal pain
• Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea
• Darkened urine
• Subsequent dehydration
• Abnormal heart rhythms
• Red blood cell and platelet destruction
If exposed to lower levels of arsenic for an extended period of time, victims often develop skin symptoms. There may be dark patches from melanin accumulation. Raised areas that initially look like warts or corns become reddened and swell. The fingernails develop white lines. In time, motor and sensory nerves malfunction. Organ damage and failure begins. Long-term exposure can also lead to cancer.
Arsenic Poisoning Diagnosis
As the symptoms associated with acute or chronic arsenic poisoning often resemble other medical conditions, obtaining a medical history of the patient is necessary. Living location and employment history is also helpful. One of the first indications that a person suffers from arsenic exposure includes the presence of a garlic odor on the breath and in urine when the individual has not eaten garlic.
Blood cell counts determine the amount of v, and a metabolic profile determines electrolyte imbalances. Toxicology testing of blood and urine samples provides definitive proof of the type of exposure. Arsenic levels higher than 50 micrograms per liter are considered abnormal. However, in the case of acute poisoning, these levels may range from 500 to 5,000 micrograms per liter. Patients typically also undergo electrocardiograms and nerve conduction tests to evaluate cardiac function and nerve damage.
Acute cases often cause rapid death with little that can be done to save the life of the patient. If caught and diagnosed in time, hemodialysis cleanses the metal from the blood before it binds to cells and tissues. Blood transfusions may replace blood cell destruction. When poisoning occurs from ingestion, irrigating the stomach and bowel may alleviate further systemic exposure. The medications Dimercaprol or Succimer might be useful when administered intravenously to act as chelating agents. The formulations bind to the arsenic and render the substance ineffective. The medication bound to the arsenic is then eliminated through the bladder.
Especially if visiting an unknown region, guests should take the time to learn about any potential hazards that may lurk in the environment, in water or foods. Similarly, knowing the origins of foods may provide a clue to possible dangers.