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FAQs - "B" Agents

  • If you believe you have been exposed to a biological or chemical agent, or you have received a bioterrorism threat, please call 911.
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Trichothecene mycotoxins

What are trichothecene mycotoxins?

Trichothecene mycotoxins, biological toxins, are a group of 40 compounds produced by a common grain mold. Biological toxins are harmful substances that are produced by living organisms such as fungi.

Why are we concerned about trichothecene mycotoxins as a biological weapon?

We are concerned about trichothecene mycotoxins, especially T-2, as a biological weapon because they are very stable, resistant to disinfectants, easy to produce in large quantities, and can be dispersed through a number of different ways. Additionally, there is strong evidence to suggest that they have been used as biological warfare agents in the past.

How are trichothecene mycotoxins transmitted?

Trichothecene mycotoxins can be inhaled, ingested, or absorbed through the skin. The T-2 mycotoxins are the only potential biological agent that can adhere to and penetrate intact skin. Trichothecene mycotoxins cannot be transmitted person to person.

Can trichothecene mycotoxin exposure occur naturally?

Yes. This usually occurs when contaminated foods, such as moldy grain, are eaten.

What are the symptoms of trichothecene mycotoxin exposure?

After exposure early symptoms begin within 5 to 60 minutes. Symptoms are dependant on the route of exposure.

  • Inhalational exposure results in nasal itching, pain, sneezing, bloody and runny nose, difficulty breathing, wheezing, cough, and blood-tinged saliva and sputum.
  • Exposure through ingestion causes loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting, stomach cramping, and watery and/or bloody diarrhea.
  • Skin symptoms include burning, tender and reddened skin, swelling, and blistering progressing to death of skin tissues and, in lethal cases, sloughing of large areas of skin. After exposure to the eyes, pain, tearing, redness, and blurred vision occur.
  • Exposure through any route can lead to full body illness, the symptoms of which include weakness, fatigue, dizziness, lack of muscular coordination, irregular heartbeat, hyperthermia or hypothermia, extensive bleeding, and low blood pressure.

How is exposure to trichothecene mycotoxins diagnosed?

A diagnosis is generally made based on the symptoms the patient is experiencing and the results from blood and urine tests. Environmental tests may also be done to help support the diagnosis. Additionally, if the exposure were the result of a bioterrorism event, many patients may report seeing a “yellow rain” or a smoke attack.

How can trichothecene mycotoxin exposure be treated?

There is no antitoxin for the trichothecene mycotoxins therefore, the only thing that can be done is to provide supportive care and treat the symptoms that occur. If given early, superactivated charcoal can be useful in treating patients who have ingested trichothecene mycotoxins.

What should people do if they are exposed to trichothecene mycotoxins?

People who are known have been exposed to trichothecene mycotoxins should seek immediate medical. Exposed skin should be washed thoroughly with soap and water and eyes should be flooded with saline or water.

How can trichothecene mycotoxin exposure be prevented?

The only way to prevent exposure is to avoid contact with the trichothecene mycotoxins. The can be done by wearing protective clothing and a mask.

Find the PDF version of this FAQ in the Zebra Manual.