Intended for healthcare professionals

Student Education

Dioxin poisoning

BMJ 2005; 330 doi: (Published 01 February 2005) Cite this as: BMJ 2005;330:050258
  1. Raghav Chawla, fifth year medical student1
  1. 1University of Lausanne

Viktor Yushchenko, the eventual winner of Ukraine's recent presidential elections, was poisoned with dioxins during the election campaign. Raghav Chawla explores the scandal and finds out more about dioxins.

Pub Medic:Impress your mates at the pub with your startling repertoire of esoteric medical knowledge.

On 5 September 2004, Viktor Yushchenko attended a dinner with leaders of the Ukrainian security services, with the aim to discuss their role in the forthcoming election campaign.1 Three hours later, he developed a headache, and, the next day, an acute stomach ache started.2 Food poisoning was the first diagnosis made by Ukrainian doctors.1

Mr Yushchenko failed to recover in the next few days. His initial symptoms not only got worse, but he also started complaining of a backache, and the left side of his face became paralysed.3

On 10 September, five days after the gathering, Mr Yushchenko decided to seek treatment at the Rudolfinerhaus clinic in Vienna, Austria. Eleven doctors agreed on the diagnosis--“acute pancreatitis accompanied by interstitial oedematous changes.”1

Facial rash gives a clue

On his return to Ukraine, Mr Yushchenko claimed that “Ukraine's political cuisine” had tried to poison him.14 Ten days later, he started developing severe epidermal lesions on his face and on his torso.5

By November, the rash had disfigured his face so dramatically that Mr Yushchenko looked considerably older than in photographs taken three months earlier. Experts around the world started speculating over the cause of the sudden facial transformation.4

John Henry, a toxicologist at a London hospital, was one of the first to suggest that the changes were due to “chloracne,” a hallmark of dioxin poisoning. It was not until 11 December, however, that the Austrian doctors treating Mr Yushchenko confirmed this theory.1

On 17 December the Dutch laboratory where Mr Yushchenko's blood samples had been sent for analysis announced that the dioxin level was found to be 6000 …

View Full Text

Log in

Log in through your institution


* For online subscription