In Nuclear Meltdown, Thyroid Protection Is Job #1

Julie Ryan Evans

radiationWith a second nuclear reactor in Japan losing its cooling capabilities, the threat of radiation exposure has increased, terrifying people in that country and beyond about potential health threats. When I can't give my daughter a sippy cup without panicking about exposing to her some chemicals that may or may not be dangerous, I can only imagine the fear and dread of the Japanese.

So far reports say radiation levels are safe, but if a full meltdown occurs, then serious health problems are likely unavoidable -- from birth defects to cancers. Even if it doesn't, there are plenty of what ifs. One of the most common results of radiation exposure -- thyroid cancer -- however, can be prevented, and iodine pills are being handed out to help thwart that in as many residents as possible.

On the Early Show this morning, Dr. Jennifer Ashton explained just how crucial it is for anyone exposed to take the iodine pills:

What happens is the thyroid gland uses iodine very actively. So anyone who will be exposed to radiation should be taking ... potassium iodide as soon as possible before exposure, so that their thyroid gland uses that, and not the radioactive iodine. We're talking about the radioactive source is I-131 that can be liberated in these types of radiation accidents. So you want to protect the thyroid gland.

So at least there's one step residents can take when they must feel largely helpless in the wake of everything they've faced.

Of course, there are many other cancers, like leukemia, that may not show up for years to come. Everyone remembers Chernobyl and the devastation that followed that, and while experts point to the differences between the two events, residents surely are registering the similarities. How could they not? I can't imagine living with that kind of dread and worry, and my heart continues to go out to the Japanese people.

Can you imagine the fear people in Japan must face for their future health and health of generations to come?


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