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January 7, 1961

Medical Aspects of Chemical Warfare

Author Affiliations

Army Chemical Center, Md.

Chief, Clinical Research Division, U. S. Army Chemical Research and Development Laboratories.

JAMA. 1961;175(1):1-3. doi:10.1001/jama.1961.03040010003001

The action of nerve gas is to inhibit cholinesterase in the body and so to intensify the actions of existing acetylcholine. The primary cause of death is hypoxia, resulting from paralysis of both central and peripheral respiratory mechanisms. Atropine is therapeutic for certain of the autonomic and central nervous effects but has little if any effect against paralysis of the diaphragm and of accessory muscles of respiration. Therefore, the severe casualty will require artificial respiration until there is a return of spontaneous respiration. In the event of chemical warfare, nonmedical people will be responsible for rendering immediate treatment to the mass casualties that will result. The training of both civilian and military populations in treatment procedures is essential.