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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