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ARDS after accidental inhalation of zinc chloride smoke


Five soldiers were injured by inhalation of hexite smoke (ZnCl2) during military training. Two soldiers, not wearing gas masks breathed hexite for 1 or 2 min, they slowly developed severe adult respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) over the ensuing 2 weeks. This slow, progressive clinical course has not been previously described. In both patients, an increased plasma zinc concentration was measured 3 weeks after the incident. Intravenous and nebulized acetylcysteine increased the urinary excretion of zinc, and briefly decreased the plasma levels. In an attempt to arrest collagen deposition in the lungs, L-3,4 dehydroproline was administered. Both patients died of severe respiratory failure (25 and 32 days after inhalation). At autopsy diffuse microvascular obliteration, widespread occulusion of the pulmonary arteries and extensive interstitial and intra-alveolar fibrosis was observed. Three soldiers wearing ill fitting gas masks, immediately developed severe coughing and dyspnea. They improved, and 12 months after exposure their lung function tests were nearly normal, but they still had slight dyspnea on exercise.


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Hjortsø, E., Ovist, J., Bud, M.I. et al. ARDS after accidental inhalation of zinc chloride smoke. Intensive Care Med 14, 17–24 (1988).

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Key words

  • Adult respiratory distress syndrome
  • Zinc chloride toxicity
  • Acute lung injury