Chemical Terrorism for the Intensivist

Chalela, Julio A.; Burnett, W. Thomas
May 2012
Military Medicine;May2012, Vol. 177 Issue 5, p495
Academic Journal
The use of chemical agents for terrorist attacks or military warfare is a major concern at the present time. Chemical agents can cause significant morbidity, are relatively inexpensive, and are easy to store and use. Weaponization of chemical agents is only limited by the physicochemical properties of some agents. Recent incidents involving toxic industrial chemicals and chemical terrorist attacks indicate that critical care services are frequently utilized. For obvious reasons, the critical care literature on chemical terrorism is scarce. This article reviews the clinical aspects of diagnosing and treating victims of chemical terrorism while emphasizing the critical care management. The intensivist needs to be familiar with the chemical agents that could be used in a terrorist attack. The military classification divides agents into lung agents, blood agents, vesicants, and nerve agents. Supportive critical care is the cornerstone of treatment for most casualties, and dramatic recovery can occur in many cases. Specific antidotes are available for some agents, but even without the antidote, aggressive intensive care support can lead to favorable outcome in many cases. Critical care and emergency services can be overwhelmed by a terrorist attack as many exposed but not ill will seek care.


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