As nuclear fears in Ukraine drive demand for iodine pills, expert says don’t waste your money

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Prices and demand for iodine pills have risen amid concerns over the war in Ukraine leading to a wider nuclear confrontation, but a radiation sickness expert wants to put the risk of a nuclear explosion into perspective.

Prices and demand for iodine pills have risen amid concerns over the war in Ukraine leading to a wider nuclear confrontation, but a radiation sickness expert wants to put the risk of a nuclear explosion into perspective.

First thing, even if there was a nuclear attack, pills bought online or over the counter would not help.

“People buy potassium iodide pills because there is a misperception that potassium iodide pills protect against radiation damage, when in fact they only protect the thyroid by reducing the risk of cancer many years later, after exposure,” said Lauren Jackson, associate professor. of Radiation Oncology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

Jackson is an international expert and researcher on the development of medical countermeasures against radiation sickness.

“Potassium iodide pills treat internal radiation exposure, not external radiation exposure, which is the predominant cause of acute radiation sickness in a nuclear accident,” she said. .

An example of the intended use of potassium iodide pills would be for children who have ingested milk from cows grazing in a contaminated field.

For those still worried about a nuclear attack, it might be somewhat comforting to know that radioactive fallout decays very quickly.

In the event of a radiation emergency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urges people to come in, stay inside, and stay tuned for instructions and updates.

“In a radiological or nuclear incident, the vast majority of lives could be saved; people will be given 15 to 20 minutes notice to take shelter, usually before the fallout arrives,” Jackson said.

Most people can avoid exposure to external radiation if they immediately seek shelter in the middle of a building or in a basement away from windows and stay there for 12 to 24 hours.

If survivors of a nuclear explosion were exposed to potentially life-threatening doses 30 to 60 days after exposure, there are currently four drugs to treat them.

“The US government has invested billions of dollars to develop medical countermeasures to treat acute radiation sickness. Since 2015, four drugs have been approved to treat radiation sickness and improve chances of survival,” she said.

For example, in December 2021, the Federal Emergency Management Agency issued guidelines for responding to a nuclear detonation.

“I certainly don’t want to diminish, at all, the catastrophic nature of such an attack,” Jackson said. But she added that everything the government does should help reverse the psychological thinking of fatalism.

She wants people to know: ‘There are things people can do to improve their chances of survival, that there are treatments that significantly improve survival from acute radiation sickness and that the government is continuing to invest in the development of new drugs every day.”

And, Jackson said, several drugs are currently in the works to treat radiation exposure that doctors cannot treat at this time.

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