Fear of poisonous cyanide surfaces after lottery killing

As Cook County, Illinois, officials decided to exhume the body of a $1 million lottery winner who died from cyanide poisoning, health officials expressed fear related to the dangerous chemical.

In July, Urooj Khan, a West Rogers Park businessman, died of cyanide poisoning only weeks after he won a million-dollar lottery jackpot. Extensive toxicological tests revealed that Khan died of lethal cyanide levels, prompting a homicide investigation by Chicago police and Cook County prosecutors, the Chicago Sun Times reports.

No suspects have been named in the case.

Cyanide is a toxic combination of carbon and nitrogen that is acutely poisonous in its pure gas or solid forms. The poison was used in Nazi death camps in World War II, the Jonestown massacre and the Chicago Tylenol murders.

"It is a poison we fear," Frank Paloucek, a pharmacist and toxicologist at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said, according to the Chicago Tribune. "It is a really dangerous poison, and once you get enough of it, there is not much we can do."

Once the compound enters the human body, it prevents cells from using oxygen. After enough cells absorb cyanide, the human brain and body become so oxygen-deprived that the tissues start to die. Cramping and headaches, the loss of consciousness and death follow.

Paloucek said that death can occur between 15 minutes and a couple of hours after ingestion, the Chicago Tribune reports.