Terrorists turning to chemical weapons to kill or maim chosen targets is a chilling possibility.
The good news is that there are potential antidotes to these chemical agents, which can save lives if they are used quickly and correctly, new research shows.
Chemical weapons act on their victims through a number of mechanisms, the Journal of Pharmacy Practice reported.
They include nerve agents, chemicals that cause blistering (vesicants), choking agents, incapacitating agents, riot control agents, blood agents, and toxic industrial chemicals.
Clinical pharmacist and forensic pharmacologist Peter D. Anderson at the Taunton State Hospital in Massachusetts explained the clinical effects of chemical weapons with their treatment.
Pharmacists need to work in their hospitals to prepare emergency plans, and with the pharmacy and therapeutic committees to stock for a potential chemical accident or terrorist attack.
Nerve agents work by blocking the actions of acetyl cholinesterase (the chemistry involved is similar to how pesticides kill). These toxins include sarin, tabun, VX, cyclosarin, and soman, according to a hospital statement.
Vesicants like sulphur mustard and lewisite produce blisters and damage the upper airways. Choking agents, which cause fluid to build up in the lungs (pulmonary edema), include phosgene and chlorine gas.