THURSDAY, March 17 (HealthDay News) -- As people across the
United States rush to buy potassium iodide pills to protect
themselves against any possible radiation exposure from Japan's
nuclear plant crisis, experts stress there's no need for the pills
since there is little danger that Americans are at any risk.
"Don't panic. This is close to an hysterical response," said radiation expert Jacqueline Williams, program director for radiation medicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center's Center for Biophysical Assessment and Risk Management Following Irradiation in New York.
Williams added there is no present danger or even a likelihood
that radiation from the catastrophe in Japan -- 5,000 miles from
the U.S. west coast -- will have any effect on people in the United
What's more, iodide pills only protect from thyroid cancer --
and the protection is limited.
"These pills only protect you against radioactive iodine, and we have seen only a little in the way of radioactive iodine being released [in Japan]," Williams said. "Given the fact that it has a very short half-life, it's close to zero that any radioactive iodine of any quantity that would do any harm would end up on U.S. shores."
A United Nations report suggests that the radioactive cloud that
is drifting across the Pacific Ocean, and is expected to reach the
shores of southern California late Friday, will be so diluted that
it should only have the most minor of health consequences,
The New York Times reported.
Another expert, Dr. William Inabnet, chief of endocrine surgery
at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City, echoed that
"By the time radioactivity reaches the west coast of the United States, it will be so diluted that it won't warrant taking iodine," he said.
"In fact, iodine is recommended only for children and pregnant women, even in the setting of a nuclear disaster," Inabnet explained. "Iodine is not recommended for people over the age of 40."
Children, infants and fetuses need iodine to protect their
active and developing thyroid gland from any genetic changes that
could cause cancer later in life, he added. For adults, the
effects, if any, from exposure to radioactive iodine would not be
seen for years, he said.
Potassium iodide pills are generally safe, Inabnet noted.
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, side effects
rarely occur. However, there are potential side effects for people
who suffer from thyroid disease, such as Graves' disease.
Iodine is essential for the thyroid gland -- which regulates the
body's metabolism and calcium balance -- to make its hormones. The
gland cannot distinguish between iodine and radioactive iodine, so
it will use either. The idea behind taking iodide pills is to
saturate the thyroid with iodine so it won't use any radioactive
iodine, Inabnet explained.
Potassium iodide provides protection only for the thyroid from
radioiodines, according to the FDA. "It has no impact on the uptake
by the body of other radioactive materials and provides no
protection against external irradiation of any kind," the agency
noted. Moreover, the effect from one dose lasts only a day.
The agency cautioned that potassium iodide should be an adjunct
to "evacuation, sheltering and control of foodstuffs."
The Japanese nuclear accident has opened a debate about whether
the U.S. government should make potassium iodide more available to
people who live near nuclear power plants,
Bloomberg News reported.
Currently, potassium iodide pills are given to people who live
within 10 miles of a nuclear power plant, Williams said.
In light of the radiation released from the Japanese power
plant, U.S. Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) has asked the White House
to provide potassium iodide to people living within 20 miles of
nuclear power plants,
For more on risks of nuclear radiation, visit the
University of Pittsburgh.
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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