I began getting Google News Alerts using the keyword “poisoning” about five months ago. I am amazed at all the news articles that share stories of intentional poisoning, from a neighbor adding antifreeze to a pet’s water in “in revenge”, to the woman who mixed up a special margarita cocktail to poison her boyfriend. And then there is the case of the arsenic-tainted coffee at a university. The list goes on. Couple these local news events with the inquiries we receive in the laboratory and you might be baffled at the prevalence of poisoning suspicion.
One of the most common “poisons of choice” is arsenic. Arsenic has been used for hundreds of years for medicinal purposes to political assassinations. There is an interesting, fact-filled article on the use of arsenic throughout history. However, arsenic is not fun – it is dangerous. This heavy metal is now most commonly seen in certain occupations that include but are not limited to:
- Wood preservation
- Glass production
- Electronic semiconductor manufacturing
- Working with pesticides
Certain areas of the world, including the United States, have water sources that are known to naturally have high concentrations of arsenic. And then there are the incidences of attempted murder – spouse poisoning spouse; boyfriend tainting the food or drink of a girlfriend; child poisoning a parent; an act of revenge.
What are some of the signs and symptoms of arsenic poisoning? You may at first think you have the flu or a virus, but then the symptoms don’t go away and get worse over time. Watch for:
- Violent stomach pains
- Clammy sweats
- Garlic smell on your breath or sweat
- Sweat may have an orange tint
- Excessive saliva production
- Vomiting and/or diarrhea
- Dryness and tightness in the throat
- Hoarseness and/or difficult with speech
If you suspect you are being poisoned, you can contact your local Poison Control Center, such as our friends at the Southeast Texas Poison Control Center. You will also want to visit your doctor and share your concerns and symptoms with him or her. If all else fails, call us – we can test both biological specimens as well as liquids, food (including pet food), or items with residue for a particular poison or through an unknown poisons and toxins analysis. Tests can be conducted using blood, urine or even hair when suspected exposure is more long-term.