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a chemical element, atomic number 80, atomic weight 200.59. (See Appendix 6.) Mercury forms two sets or classes of compounds: mercurous, in which a single atom of mercury combines with a monovalent radical, and mercuric, in which a single atom of mercury combines with a bivalent radical. Mercury and its salts can be absorbed by the skin and mucous membranes, causing chronic poisoning (see mercury poisoning). The mercuric salts are more soluble and irritant than the mercurous.
ammoniated mercury a compound used as an antiseptic skin and ophthalmic ointment. It should be applied with caution, as excessive use may irritate the skin and cause dermatitis.
mercury bichloride an extremely poisonous compound formerly used in treatment of syphilis but now used only as a disinfectant.
mercury poisoning acute or chronic disease caused by exposure to mercury or its salts; an important aspect is its toxic effect on the brain, causing impaired judgment, memory loss, sleeplessness, and nervousness. The acute form, due to ingestion, is marked by severe abdominal pain, metallic taste in the mouth, vomiting, oliguria or anuria at onset, followed by bloody diarrhea, and corrosion and ulceration of the entire digestive tract. The chronic form, due to absorption by the skin and mucous membranes, inhalation of vapors, or ingestion of mercury salts, is marked by stomatitis, metallic taste in the mouth, a blue line along the border of the gum, sore hypertrophied gums that bleed easily, loosening of the teeth, excessive salivation, tremors and incoordination, and psychiatric symptoms including abnormal excitability, anxiety, and social withdrawal. A common cause of chronic mercury poisoning is the ingestion of contaminated fish. Because of this, some fishing areas are posted with signs recommending limiting consumption of fish caught there. See also minamata disease.
Treatment. Treatment consists of removal of the source of exposure and administration of a chelating agent. Exchange transfusions and removal of mercury by surgery are options in selected patients. Consultation with a toxicologist is warranted.
mer·cu·ric chlor·ide(mer-kyū'rik klōr'īd),
A topical antiseptic and disinfectant for inanimate objects.