One day after sources confirmed Syria's military has developed bombs loaded with sarin gas in preparation for possible use on President Assad's own people, the gruesome reality of an impending health crisis in that country is becoming very real to me.
Sarin is an odorless, tasteless, man-made chemical warfare agent classified as a nerve agent, which are the most toxic and rapidly acting of the known chemical warfare agents. Also known as GB, it was originally developed in the 1930s in Germany as a pesticide, but has been used in chemical warfare and terrorist attacks in foreign countries throughout the 80s and 90s, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s web site.
When used as a chemical warfare agent, sarin gas is released into the air and can be absorbed into a victim’s body through the lungs, skin or eyes. The gas can stay on clothing and be re-released into the air for about 30 minutes after exposure.
Nerve agents, like sarin gas, have extremely toxic health effects because they prohibit the body’s ability to regulate muscles and glands needed for proper organ function, and even breathing. But the extent of poisoning depends on how much a victim was exposed to and for how long.
The CDC says symptoms of sarin gas poisoning can appear within a seconds after exposure to the vapor and can include:
- Runny nose
- Watery eyes
- Small, pinpoint pupils
- Eye pain
- Blurred vision
- Drooling and excessive sweating
- Chest tightness
- Rapid breathing
- Increased urination
- Nausea, vomiting, and/or abdominal pain
- Slow or fast heart rate
- Low or high blood pressure
Prolonged exposure or large amounts of sarin in any of its forms can cause loss of consciousness, convulsions, paralysis, respiratory failure and death.
Victims exposed to small amounts of sarin gas usually make a complete recovery within one to two weeks, but severe exposure unfortunately usually ends in death.
Even though recovery is possible, the best thing is to avoid contact completely. Because the vapor is heavier than air, it will tend to sink into low-lying areas, so getting to hire ground is essential if you are in an environment where it has been released. If people think they may have been exposed, they should remove their clothing, rapidly wash their entire body with soap and water, and get medical care as quickly as possible, according to the CDC.
I hope and pray that it doesn’t get to this point. I pray that these reports are only theoretical news, in that we will not see an act of this magnitude happening in our lifetime, because the outcome would be absolutely devastating.
FoxNews.com's Jessica Mulvihill contributed to this report.
Dr. Manny Alvarez serves as Fox News Channel's senior managing health editor. He also serves as chairman of the department of obstetrics/gynecology and reproductive science at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. For more information on Dr. Manny's work, visit AskDrManny.com.