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Full text of "Medical Jurisprudence And Toxicology"

614                                              MEDICAL JURISPRUDENCE

contain an irritant fluid consisting of histamine and acetylcholine. The bulbs break off
at the slightest touch, and the hairs piercing the skin pour out the contents which pro-
duce severe irritation. Thus, brown, rigid, pointed hairs covering the pods of an annual
climbing plant, called Mucuna pruriens (N.O, Leguminosse), the cow-itch, cowhage or
" Russian fleas " (Kavach), produce local redness with a strong burning sensation follow-
ed by intolerable itching, inflammation and even blisters when applied to the skin, and
are liable to set up the symptoms of irritation in the mouth and throat, when swallowed
in water. If inhaled, the dust of the powdered hairs produces pain and swelling of the
respiratory tract and may cause death from suffocation.

The treatment consists in washing the part with warm water containing an alkali,
such as sodium carbonate, when Mucuna pruriens is applied to the skin, and in ad~
ministering olive oil or liquid paraffin when it is taken internally. Luminal may be
given by the mouth to relieve intense itching, and ephedrine hydrochloride may be given
hypodermically if the skin rash is of an urticarial nature.

The hairs are usually scraped off! from unripe pods without any risk, and are dried
and stored for criminal use. A case of torture by Mucuna pruriens is recorded in the
annual report of the Chemical Examiner, Bengal, for the year 1909. A lad, 15 years old,
threw some powder of the burnt pods of this plant on a female relation of his on account
of some quarrel between them, The woman suffered from itching and burning all over
the body attended with a swelling for two days, but ultimately recovered. On analysis
the partly burnt pods were found covered with fine stiff hairs. The Chemical Exa^
miner of the United Provinces of Agra and Oudh mentions in his annual report for the
year 1916, that an anonymous letter containing some of the hairs of Mucuna pruriens
was sent. They leaked in the post office, and produced irritating symptoms on the
hands of post office officials. In his annual report for the year 1931, the Chemical
Analyser of Bombay also reports the case of two men who had a quarrel in the temple
of Shri Vithoba at Pandharpur in Shplapur District, and one of them threw some
powder over the other as a result of which he got almost unbearable itching of hist body
for which he was treated as an outpatient in the local dispensary. Some of the powder
was seized by the police and sent for identification. It was found to contain numerous
whitish hairs which were identified as those from the pods of the cowhage plant, In his
annual report for the year 1949, the Chemical Examiner, Madras, cites a case, where
two North Indian passengers in a railway train were found in possession of packets
containing vegetable hairs of a stinging nettle (cowhage plant)* The powder was alleged
to have been used by them for rubbing on fellow passengers, and causing them irritation
-with a view to diverting their attention and in the meanwhile attempting to rob them.

13.   Ind. Med,. Gaz., Sept. 1910, p. 362.