So, don't worry about it?
I have been receiving many phone calls this week from patients asking if they can have prescriptions for potassium iodide pills. They want to protect their thyroids in case the sea winds blow the radiation from Japan to the U.S. , and then across from California to New York, where I live.
These radiation fears are irrational, and they are reminiscent of the nervous calls I received for Cipro during the anthrax scare of 2011 and for Tamiflu during the bird flu scare of 2005.
But I also understand where these worries come from; people are afraid of the unknown, afraid of death, and we all personalize the risk. Since the best antidote for fear is facts, I've decided to do my best to put these fears into perspective.
1. Even if the three affected reactors in Japan experience a complete meltdown and begin spewing radiation, there is no telling how much radiation will escape.
I believe workers inside the facilities may already be at risk for radiation sickness, and several have reportedly been hospitalized. But consider that real acute radiation sickness (symptoms include hair loss, scorched skin, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and headache) would generally only result from exposure to more than 50-100 REMS of radiation. (By comparison, this is 5,000 to 10,000 times the amount of radiation you receive from a routine chest x-ray).
Cases of radiation sickness at Chernobyl, which experienced a full meltdown, were only 200. [...]
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