Sarin Gas: Health Effects of Chemical Weapons Potentially Used in Syria

By

Home / Sarin Gas: Health Effects of Chemical Weapons Potentially Used in Syria

If you’re in an area that is vulnerable to attack, be aware of the signs of sarin gas exposure. Image by Decoded Science

Sarin Gas Exposure: Symptoms

What happens to you if you’re exposed to sarin gas? The extent of sarin poisoning depends on the amount of the chemical you are exposed to, the route of exposure, and how long the exposure lasted. If you are exposed to the vapor form of sarin, symptoms begin within a few seconds. If you are exposed to the liquid form, symptoms begin within a few minutes and up to 18 hours after exposure.

Nerve agents destroy the body’s ‘off switch’ and without a off switch, glands and muscles are constantly being stimulated, which causes them to become ‘tired’ and unable to sustain normal functions. If you’re mildly or moderately exposed, you won’t generally suffer any long term health problems. However, those who are severely exposed to sarin aren’t likely to survive.

Testing for Nerve Agents

Sarin gas is classified as a nerve agent, and there are laboratory criteria for diagnosing if a nerve agent has been used. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), to have a diagnoses of a nerve agent, the nerve agent has to be detected in a person’s urine by the CDC or one of the five Laboratory Response Network (LRN)  that have the tools to test for it. Testing for decreased red blood cell cholinesterase and plasma levels in a commercial laboratory may indicate a nerve agent, but because these levels can vary, doctors can’t make a diagnosis based on these tests.

Sarin Exposure: Treatment and Prevention

Although we don’t yet know for sure whether or not rebels are using sarin in Syria, those living in Syria should know what to do in case of exposure. If exposed, leave the area and get to fresh air quickly. If sarin was released into the air, go to the highest point possible, as sarin is heavier than air and will sink to low areas. The CDC also recommends that if exposed, you take off your clothes quickly and wash your body with soap and water – but don’t remove your clothes over your head. If your shirt has no buttons, cut it off to avoid additional contamination of your face. If you are exposed to sarin, seek medical treatment as soon as possible. Medical staff can provide supportive care to manage symptoms as well as antidotes which counteract the poison.

Resources:

National Public Radio. Syrian Rebels May Have Used Sarin, U.N. Investigator Says. (2013). Accessed May 6, 2013.

New York Times. Syrian Rebels May Have Used Sarin. (2013). Accessed May 6, 2013.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Facts about sarin. (2006). Accessed May 6, 2013.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Case Definition: Nerve Agents or Organophosphates. (2006). Accessed May 6, 2013.

The National Terror Alert. Facts about Sarin. Accessed May 6, 2013.

Leave a Comment