A 5-year-old boy in New Delhi died after eating the seeds of the highly poisonous rosary pea plant.
The child passed within 24 hours of ingesting the seeds. His 7-year-old brother also ate the seeds and was in critical condition. But he has since recovered and left the hospital.
The Rosary pea is the third-deadliest plant on Earth. Its bright red seeds with black tops cannot kill a human if they’re swallowed whole, according to Britannica. But once they’re scratched or chewed they release a toxin called abrin. Just three micrograms of the substance, which is less than one seed contains, are lethal to an adult.
The seeds are 30 times more deadly than ricin, which is a poison found in castor beans. And there is no known antidote to reverse the effects.
To put it into better perspective, Abrin is so toxic that it compares to the venom of a few of the most deadly snakes in the world. It takes 0.9 to 0.8 fewer milligrams of abrin to kill an adult than the venom from a king cobra bite.
The Poisonous Plant is Used by Gardeners in Hawaii and Florida
The plant is native to tropical Asia and India, where it’s called Ratti or Gunchi. But the slender and woody climbing vine is also used in the United States as ornamental vegetation in Florida and Hawaii. Because of the intense coloring of the seeds, they’re also popular in rosaries and jewelry. It is believed that many craftspeople have become ill or even died after pricking their fingers while working with the plant.
Abrin kills by releasing a ribosome-inhibiting protein, which eventually causes cell death and organ failure. Symptoms of poisoning can include vomiting, bloody diarrhea, hallucinations, and seizures, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sadly, the two boys who lost their lives to the toxins presented several of those symptoms.
Dr. Dhiren Gupta, a senior consultant at the Sir Ganga Ram Hospital in New Delhi, said in a statement that the surviving brother “was unconscious, irritable, suffering from encephalopathy—swelling in the brain—and unstable vitals: high pulse rate with shock.”
Because there is no antidote, doctors had to offset the effects with several different medications while the child’s body worked to rid itself of abrin. To save him, they treated him for seizures and low blood pressure. They also used breathing machines and several intravenous injections.