Organophosphate Poisoning - symptoms and treatment

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Different people have different symptoms of OP poisoning. Symptoms depend partly on how much OP they have been exposed to, whether they have had single massive exposure, or chronic sub-lethal exposure, whether it has been combined with other chemicals and OPs and how good their body is a coping with toxic chemicals. Symptoms divide into the following categories:

No obvious symptoms at all

A Government sponsored study at the Institute of Occupational Medicine of farmers who regularly handled OPs but who were complaining of no symptoms showed that they suffered from mild brain damage. Their ability to think clearly and problem solve was impaired.

Sheep dip 'flu (mild acute poisoning)

This is a 'flu-like illness which follows exposure to OPs. Sometimes the farmer just has a bit of a headache, feels unusually tired or finds he can't think clearly. This may just last a few hours to a few days and the sufferer recovers completely. Most sufferers do not realise that they have been poisoned and put any symptoms down to a hard day's work. It can occur after dipping, but some farmers will get symptoms after the slightest exposure, such as visiting markets and inhaling OP fumes from fleeces.

Acute Organophosphate poisoning

This is the syndrome recognised by doctors and Poisons Units. Symptoms occur within 24 hours of exposure and include collapse, breathing problems, sweating, diarrhoea, vomiting, excessive salivation, heart dysrrhythmias, extreme anxiety etc. Treatment is with atropine. You have to have a large dose of OP to have this effect (eg. drink some of the dip!) and so this syndrome is rarely seen.

Intermediate Syndrome

This occurs 1-3 weeks after exposure and is characterised by weakness of shoulder, neck and upper leg muscles. It is usually undiagnosed because it goes unrecognised.

Long term chronic effects

These symptoms develop in some susceptible individuals. They can either occur following a single massive exposure, or after several years of regular sub-lethal exposure to OPs.


The treatment follows the same prninciples as for any chemical poisoning. See Chemical poisoning - general principles of diagnosis and treatment

Fortunately most farmers are intelligent and realise the above state of affairs. But the lack of street credibility and help from Government Agencies make this illness a social and financial disaster area.

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