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Las Vegas Police: Man in critical condition after exposure to ricin

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  • Las Vegas Police: Man in critical condition after exposure to ricin

    (CNN) -- A man who stayed in a Las Vegas hotel room where ricin was found is in critical condition at a hospital, where he has been since mid-February, said a Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department official.
    A man is in critical condition after exposure to ricin at a Las Vegas, Nevada, hotel.

    Deputy Chief Kathy Suey said the man called for medical help on February 14, saying he was suffering from respiratory distress, and was transported to the hospital.

    A friend or relative of his who came to remove his belongings from the room found the ricin Thursday, Suey said.

    Police don't suspect foul play in the poisoning, CNN affiliate KLAS-TV in Las Vegas reported. The FBI said it was treating the case as a criminal investigation and terrorism was not suspected.

    Tests confirm the substance found in the room was ricin, police said, but it remains a mystery how it got there.

    "We don't know who [the ricin] belongs to or why it would be here at this time," said police Capt. Joe Lombardo.

    As little as 500 micrograms of the toxin -- an amount the size of the head of a pin -- can kill an adult.

    Watch how a minute amount of ricin can kill »
    Suey said seven people -- including apartment management and police officers -- had been taken to the hospital to be checked out after the ricin was discovered. None showed signs of poisoning, and all had been released, she said.

    Authorities were called to an Extended Stay America hotel around 3 p.m. PT Thursday after a man brought a bag with a small container to the manager's office. The man said he found it while retrieving items from a hotel room.

    The substance is "100 percent ricin," Lombardo said.
    Symptoms of ricin poisoning can include anything from difficulty breathing, fever, cough, nausea and sweating to severe vomiting and dehydration.
    "We did have enough ricin to be of concern," Lombardo said. Watch police discuss the ricin discovery »

    • Poison made from castor beans
    • Can be inhaled, swallowed or injected
    • Prevents cells of a person's body making proteins, can cause death
    • No antidote
    • Used in cancer treatment and bone marrow transplants
    Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
    Lombardo said areas of the hotel exposed to the toxin have been decontaminated.

    Police said they don't know how many people have stayed in the room recently.

    The discovery of ricin alarms law-enforcement agencies because authorities in several countries have investigated links between suspect extremists and ricin.

    Ricin is a poison that can be made from waste left over after processing castor beans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    The toxin can come in the form of a mist or pellet and can be dissolved in water or weak acid, according to the CDC. The agency also said the toxin works by getting inside the cells of a person's body and preventing the cells from making the proteins they need.

    Lombardo said authorities found castor beans in the room and also powder in a small vial. He said ricin is not illegal to own, but it's illegal if processed to be used for poisoning someone.

    Ricin has limited medical uses -- it can be used to kill cancer cells and bone marrow transplants.
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    CNN's chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, said that while a small amount can kill somebody if injected, tons of it would be needed to use as a mass terrorism tool.

    Gupta said there are three ways of exposure to ricin: inhalation, ingestion or injections. If inhaled, people may develop fever, a cough, nausea, fluid in the lungs and organ failure.

    There is no specific test for exposure and no antidote once exposed, he said.

    There have been other reported cases involving ricin in the United States. In January 2005, the FBI arrested an Ocala, Florida, man with no known ties to terrorists or extremists after agents found ricin in the home he lives in with his mother.

    Ricin was found in February 2004 in the mailroom of the Dirksen Senate Office Building in Washington. The mailroom handles correspondence addressed to U.S. lawmakers.