Hazards of radiation exposure: when to worry
Radiation release from the earthquake-stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant explosion in Japan has raised fears among people residing in Japan and its neighbouring countries. People are very anxious about possible health hazards of radiation exposure — both long and short term. Many have been unnecessarily self-medicating themselves with potassium iodide to get protection from cancer of Thyroid (also called Adam's apple). But experts cautioned not to do so and advised to follow public health guideline without paying attention to rumour.
It is very difficult to predict properly the extent of damage of human health by the leaked radiation. Experts say, the situation is worrisome but in terms of public health, it is not highly endangering in comparison to radiation levels seen in some of the past's worst nuclear disasters as of Chernobyl.
The greatest disaster from radiation exposure occurred after Chernobyl blast was epidemic of Thyroid cancer — more than 6,000 cases so far. We could prevent the cancer if we knew the main source of radiation — the locally produced milk. Cows ate grass contaminated by fallout from the reactors and secreted radioactive iodine in their milk. From the past incidences and research on radiation exposure, we know better than ever before.
Japanese government has already evacuated people within 20 Km of the nuclear plant and advised people within 30 Km to stay indoors and distributed the drug potassium iodide to people at risk to protect their Thyroid gland from radioactive iodine.
A recent United Nations report revealed that there is no evidence of a major public health impact attributable to radiation exposure two decades after the accident at Chernobyl in part because of the evacuation efforts.
Exposure to radiation can cause a range of health effects from simple diarrhoea to deadly cancer. Mild exposure may not have any symptom. Nausea and vomiting often begin within hours of moderate exposure, followed by diarrhoea, headaches and fever. After the first round of symptoms, there may be a brief period with no apparent illness, but this may be followed within weeks by new, more serious symptoms. At higher levels of radiation, all of these symptoms may be immediately apparent, along with widespread — and potentially fatal — damage to internal organs.
If you suspect to have radiation exposure, the first thing you should do is to remove clothes and shoes that eliminates about 90 percent of external radiation contamination and washing with soap and water takes radiation off the skin. This lowers your risk of breathing or ingesting radiation particles, or having them get into open wounds.