|MadSci Network: Medicine|
The toxicity of arsenic is relative to the type of arsenic compound used. Arsenic in the forms in which it ordinarily occurs in foods, including the organically bound arsenic of shrimp, is well absorbed and rapidly eliminated in the urine. The more toxic trivalent compounds, including arsenic trioxide, is well absorbed and excreted rather slowly. The symptoms of acute arsenic poisoning are nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, burning of the mouth and throat, and severe abdominal pain. Chronic exposure to smaller, perhaps continued doses, results in weakness, prostration, muscular aching, skin abnormalities, peripheral neuropathy, and pigmentation within the fingernails.The antidote (for the acute condition) is BAL that protects enzymes containing active thiol groups. This usually is given in a hospital seting quickly after exposure. Retained arsenic (as from arsenic troxide) is concentrated in hair and fingernails. Hair samples, even some time after exposure, can be analyzed for arsenic. Hair containing over 2 parts per million can engender suspicion of arsenic poisoning. One should go to a medical doctor and give him/her a health history including possible symptoms of chronic arsenic poisoning and request that a laboratory perform arsenic analysis on hair samples. The laboratory will take the hair in a proper sampling manner. The laboratory must have sensitive instruments to detect small concentrations of arsenic in the hair, e.g., neutron activation technique is one example of sensitive instrumentation. There are others. It is very difficult to predict if an increased arsenic hair concentration,after many months after possible arsenic chronic poisoning exposure, can still be observed.
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