Radiation Poisoning Sends More than a Dozen in Japan to Hospital

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Several international news sites are reporting that a Kyodo news agency stated Sunday, “At least 15 people have been admitted to hospital with symptoms of radiation poisoning after a devastating earthquake damaged Japan's Fukushima nuclear power plant.”

The massive 8.9 earthquake and tsunami which hit Japan Friday have resulted in significant damage to several of the nuclear reactors. USA Today reports “Some 170,000 people have been ordered to evacuate the area covering a radius of 12 miles around the plant in Fukushima near Iwaki.”

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report earlier that Japanese authorities had extended the evacuation zone around the Fukushima Daiichi plant to a 20-kilometre radius from the previous 10 kilometres. At the nearby Fukushima Daini nuclear power plant, the evacuation zone has been extended to a 10-kilometre radius from the previous three kilometres.

The authorities also say they are making preparations to distribute iodine to residents in the area of both the plants.

How does iodine tablets help protect someone exposed to radiation? One of the smaller fragments formed when uranium-235 decays is iodine-131. It’s also radioactive and is the only one that’s present naturally in our bodies. Iodine is important to normal thyroid function.

Radiation poisoning can occur in the short term due to radiation exposure, but in the long term exposure to radioactive iodine can cause thyroid cancer, especially in kids.

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If a person is given iodine tablets 48 hours before or eight hours after radiation exposure, the damage to the thyroid can be minimized by saturating the thyroid with non-radioactive iodine. The saturated thyroid is then unable to absorb the radioactive iodine.

Acute radiation sickness is caused by a very large dose of radiation often received over a short period of time.

The severity of signs and symptoms of radiation sickness depends on how much radiation the body absorbs which depends on the strength of the radiated energy and the distance between the person and the source of radiation.

The initial signs and symptoms of treatable radiation sickness are usually nausea and vomiting. The amount of time between exposure and when these symptoms develop is an indicator of how much radiation a person has absorbed.

After the first round of signs and symptoms, a person with radiation sickness may have a brief period with no apparent illness, followed by the onset of new, more serious symptoms.

In general, the greater the radiation exposure, the more rapid and more severe the symptoms will be. Signs and symptoms of radiation sickness usually appear when the entire body receives an absorbed dose of at least 1 Gy. Doses greater than 6 Gy to the whole body are generally not treatable and usually lead to death within two days to two weeks, depending on the dose and duration of the exposure.

Sources
Deccan Herald
Hindustan Times
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
Why take iodide for radiation poisoning?; Leigh Krietsch Boerner; March 12, 2011
Radiation Poisoning, Medline Plus

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