Sulfur mustard is a form of chemical warfare agent. These kinds of agents cause blistering of the skin and mucous membranes on contact. They are called vesicants or blistering agents.
Sulfur mustard was introduced in World War I as a chemical warfare agent. Historically, it was available for use in the treatment of a skin condition called psoriasis.
Immediate signs and symptoms of sulfur mustard exposure
- Exposure to sulfur mustard usually is not fatal. When sulfur mustard was used during World War I, it killed fewer than 5% of the people who were exposed and got medical care.
- People may not know right away that they have been exposed, because sulfur mustard may not have a smell or have a smell that might not cause alarm.
- Typically, signs and symptoms do not occur immediately. Depending on the severity of the exposure, symptoms may not occur for up to 24 hours. Some people are more sensitive to sulfur mustard than are other people, and may have signs and symptoms sooner.
- Sulfur mustard can have the following effects on specific parts of the body:
- Skin: redness and itching of the skin may occur 2 to 48 hours after exposure and may eventually change to yellow blistering of the skin.
- Eyes: irritation, pain, swelling, and tearing may occur within 3 to 12 hours of a mild to moderate exposure. A severe exposure may cause signs and symptoms within 1 to 2 hours and may include the symptoms of a mild or moderate exposure plus light sensitivity, severe pain, or blindness lasting up to 10 days.
- Respiratory tract: runny nose, sneezing, hoarseness, bloody nose, sinus pain, shortness of breath, and cough within 12 to 24 hours of a mild exposure and within 2 to 4 hours of a severe exposure.
- Digestive tract: abdominal pain, diarrhoea, fever, nausea, and vomiting.
- Bone marrow: decreased formation of blood cells (aplastic anaemia) or decreased red or white blood cells and platelets (pancytopenia) leading to weakness, bleeding and infections.
- Showing these signs and symptoms does not necessarily mean that a person has been exposed to sulfur mustard.