Oxygen Administration Improves Survival but Worsens Cardiopulmonary Functions in Chlorine-exposed Rats

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Chlorine is a highly reactive gas that can cause significant injury when inhaled. Unfortunately, its use as a chemical weapon has increased in recent years. Massive chlorine inhalation can cause death within 4 hours of exposure. Survivors usually require hospitalization after massive exposure. No countermeasures are available for massive chlorine exposure and supportive-care measures lack controlled trials. In this work, adult rats were exposed to chlorine gas (LD58-67) in a whole-body exposure chamber, and given oxygen (0.8 FiO2) or air (0.21 FiO2) for 6 hours after baseline measurements were obtained. Oxygen saturation, vital signs, respiratory distress and neuromuscular scores, arterial blood gases, and hemodynamic measurements were obtained hourly. Massive chlorine inhalation caused severe acute respiratory failure, hypoxemia, decreased cardiac output, neuromuscular abnormalities (ataxia and hypotonia), and seizures resulting in early death. Oxygen improved survival to 6 hours (87% versus 42%) and prevented observed seizure-related deaths. However, oxygen administration worsened the severity of acute respiratory failure in chlorine-exposed rats compared with controls, with increased respiratory acidosis (pH 6.91 ± 0.04 versus 7.06 ± 0.01 at 2 h) and increased hypercapnia (180.0 ± 19.8 versus 103.2 ± 3.9 mm Hg at 2 h). In addition, oxygen did not improve neuromuscular abnormalities, cardiac output, or respiratory distress associated with chlorine exposure. Massive chlorine inhalation causes severe acute respiratory failure and multiorgan damage. Oxygen administration can improve short-term survival but appears to worsen respiratory failure, with no improvement in cardiac output or neuromuscular dysfunction. Oxygen should be used with caution after massive chlorine inhalation, and the need for early assisted ventilation should be assessed in victims.

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