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Articles from Aids To Forensic Medicine And Toxicology

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Duty Of Practitioner In Supposed Case Of Poisoning


Ptomaines Or Cadaveric Alkaloids





Every medical man, before presenting himself to give evidence in a case
of suspected poisoning, should make himself thoroughly acquainted with
recent researches on the subject. Ptomaines are, for the most part,
alkaloids generated during the process of putrefaction, and they closely
resemble many of the vegetable alkaloids--veratrine, morphine, and
codeine, for example--not only in chemical characters, but in
physiological properties. They are probably allied to neurine, an
alkaloid obtained from the brain and also from the bile. Some of them
are analogous in action to muscarine, the active principle of the fly
fungus. Some are proteids, albumins, and globulins. Ptomaines may be
produced abundantly in animal substances which, after exposure under
insanitary conditions, have been excluded from the air. Ptomaines or
toxalbumins are sometimes found in potted meats and sausages, and are
due to organisms--the Bacillus botulinus, the B. enteritidis of
Gärtner, the B. proteus vulgaris, or the B. ærtrycke (which is
perhaps the most common of all). The symptoms produced by the latter are
usually vomiting, abdominal pain, pains in the limbs and cramps,
diarrhoea, vertigo, coldness, faintness, and collapse. The symptoms of
botulism are dryness of skin and mucous membranes, dilatation of
pupils, paralysis of muscles, diplopia, etc. Articles of food most often
associated with poisoning are pork, ham, bacon, veal, baked meat-pie,
milk, cheese, mussels, tinned meats.

In a case of suspected poisoning, counsel for the defence, if he knows
his work, will probably cross-examine the medical expert on this
subject, and endeavour to elicit an admission that the reactions which
have been attributed to a poison may possibly be accounted for on the
theory of the formation of a ptomaine. There is practically no
counter-move to this form of attack.






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