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Prosecutors say Ellie Tran was poisoned with cyanide – what is the chemical and how does it work?

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - In court, the Commonwealth's Attorney says Joseph Merlino poisoned Ellie Tran with cyanide.

Merlino was Tran's estranged husband.

"It's obviously a very dangerous substance," said Dr. Kirk Cumpston, the medical director at the Virginia Poison Center.

Dr. Cumpston said cyanide is not easy to get and its most common forms are a solid state or a gas. The latter being more dangerous.

'It's highly lethal and if you were to stay in a room where there's gas, you'd be dead within minutes probably," said Dr. Cumpston.

The night Tran was rushed to the hospital, the poison center was called. Dr. Cumpston said they were helping with the case, not knowing at the time what it was.

"There is potential, I guess, where she may have been aware, awake and knowing that things are happening to her but it's hard to say. It's a pretty quick onset and severe life-threatening symptoms right away," said Dr. Cumpston.

What makes cyanide so lethal is its potential to stop the heart or prevent oxygen from getting to the brain because of seizures. And the longer the heart and brain aren't working properly, the great potential for multiple organs to be affected.

Tran's former coworker who was in the courtroom Friday said hearing that was upsetting.

"Before she died two weeks, she came and said hi to me and that's why I feel very sad," said Hong Tran.

But those seeking justice for Ellie Tran are focusing on the positive.

"I'm happy they denied the bond," said Tran.

There are a couple antidotes for cyanide. Cyanokit is one commonly used. However, the recovery from cyanide poisoning depends on how long someone is exposed.

Related:

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