A suspected sarin gas attack reportedly killed about 100 people in Douma, Syria on Saturday. Here's how the nerve agent works and why it's so deadly.
On Saturday night, barrel bombs filled with chlorine and sarin gases reportedly fell on and near a hospital in Douma, Syria, and killed dozens of men, women, and children.
The area is held by rebel forces that oppose the Syrian regime led by Bashar al-Assad, and the timing of the attack came just days after failed negotiations between the government and opposition groups. Al-Assad's regime has also reportedly used chemical weapons since 2013 against rebel-held enclaves packed with civilians.
However, the US State Department on Monday said the symptoms of victims "reported by credible medical professionals" and those captured in traumatic videos and photos on social media "are consistent with an asphyxiation agent and of a nerve agent of some type," Reuters reported.
US President Donald Trump tweeted on Sunday that al-Assad will have a "big price to pay" for the alleged attack.
Chlorine gas is a powerful irritant that can wreak havoc on the human body, but isn't known for being extremely lethal. However, it does sink and displace breathable air, so it can asphyxiate people in underground environments.
Just a small amount of sarin gas, however, can be extremely deadly.
Here's what sarin gas is and what it does to the body, according to information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Reuters, and other sources.
Sarin is a nerve agent that:
The two following illustrations explain how most nerve agents like sarin affect the body.
To produce these symptoms, nerve agents attack the body's cholinergic system, which is used to transmit signals between the brain and muscle tissues.
The chemicals specifically target an enzyme that drifts in the spaces, or synapses, between nerve cells and muscle cells. There, they persist and constantly trigger muscles into overdrive.
This can paralyze victims, stop their breathing, and trigger convulsions, all of which can lead to death.