Doctors say there is a short window of opportunity after people are exposed to radiation when they can assess whether patients will need extensive
treatment or a bone marrow transplant. "After a person has been radiated, you have three to four days before they're on the cusp of severe
complications," Powles said. "At that point, they could be put on a flight to Europe if Japanese facilities are overwhelmed." Powles said 500 bone
marrow transplant centres across 27 European countries have been put on alert and could treat 200 to 300 patients if necessary. He said capacity at
the centres would vary depending on their own patient loads. If Japan decides to send patients to Europe, the group would then decide which hospital
would be immediately ready to treat them.
Radiation typically kills many bone marrow cells, which can lead to a compromised immune system in patients, leaving them vulnerable to infections and
other health problems.
Powles said European doctors were not offering to perform bone marrow transplants, but to treat Japanese patients with supportive care like
antibiotics until a transplant was possible.
He said it was important to find out how much radiation nuclear plant workers are being exposed to as they attempt to cool reactors.
People exposed to a lethal dose, As was the case with some workers in the aftermath of Chornobyl — will likely die within days. But those who only
get a moderate dose could survive much longer even if they ultimately need a bone marrow transplant.
"We do have the luxury of time if workers are not getting increasing doses of radiation as they go into the plants," Powles said. He said doctors
could accurately predict which people would be in trouble 12 to 48 hours after being exposed to radiation and that emergency care could be provided in
Europe to keep them alive.
Jim Smith, a physics expert at the University of Portsmouth said the radiation risk to the general public is low, even for people in the immediate
vicinity of the problematic nuclear plants.
Health effects of radiation exposure
Symptoms of radiation sickness occur when the body is damaged by a very large dose of radiation over a short period of time. Workers at a nuclear
power plant or emergency responders on site of a nuclear disaster are at greatest risk of exposure to high levels of radiation.
The more radiation a person absorbs, the sicker he or she will get. That's why the first step in preventing harm is to prevent exposure. In Japan,
authorities expanded the evacuation zone for people living near the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, which was damaged by the devastating March 11
earthquake and subsequent tsunami.
Once exposed, people are screened to establish how much radiation they were exposed to. Their bodies, clothes and shoes are then washed with soap and
Potassium iodide tablets are often given out to people at risk of contamination or who have been exposed. The compound prevents or reduces absorption
of radioactive iodine, a byproduct of nuclear fission, through the thyroid gland, which uses iodine to produce thyroid hormones.
But potassium iodide cannot prevent radioactive iodine from entering elsewhere in the body and does not affect the absorption of other radioactive
elements, such as cesium, which stays in organs, tissue and the environment much longer than iodine.
Health officials advise people against taking potassium iodide unnecessarily since it may cause allergic reactions and side-effects such as nausea and
vomiting. If taken in pregnancy, the fetus runs a higher risk of developing goiter or abnormal thyroid function. High levels of potassium in the blood
can cause arrhythmias, said B.C. Health Officer Dr. Perry Kendall.
Radiation sickness, also called radiation poisoning, is serious but rare. Since the Second World War, most cases of radiation sickness have resulted
from industrial accidents, such as the Chornobyl meltdown in 1986.
Radiation dosage is measured in sieverts (Sv). Short-term exposure of the whole body to about 10,000 mSv or 10 Sv would cause immediate illness, such
as nausea and decreased white blood cell count, and subsequent death within a few weeks, according to the World Nuclear Association.
People living in two villages near the Chornobyl plant were exposed to, on average, 300 mSv of radiation. The average cumulative exposure for the
general population in various affected regions of Belarus, Russia and Ukraine over a 20-year period after the accident is estimated to be between 10
and 30 mSv, according to the Merck Manuals reference publication for health professionals.
The strength of the radiation itself and distance from it are key factors in the severity of radiation sickness.
Nausea and vomiting often begin within hours of exposure, followed by diarrhea, headaches and fever.
Since radiation destroys infection-fighting white blood cells, the greatest short-term risk after exposure is infection and the spread of infectious
Ionizing radiation can damage the body's internal chemistry. When damage is severe, the body's natural repair systems can be overwhelmed.
Vulnerable areas include:
* Thyroid gland.
* Bone marrow.
* Cells lining the intestine and stomach.
In the long-term, cancer is the biggest risk of radiation poisoning. When the body loses its ability to repair itself and replace damaged tissue, the
environment is ripe for cancer cells to grow.
Mutations to genetic material are associated with cancer and may also be passed on to future generations.
Children can be more sensitive to radiation exposure because their cells typically divide faster than an adult's, thereby increasing their risk of
developing a radiation-related cancer later in life.
Drugs can stimulate the growth of white blood cells and help people fight off infections. Exposed individuals can also be given capsules containing a
dye that binds to thallium and cesium and helps the body get rid of these radioactive elements.
Japans nuclear workers are indeed heroes and very brave people risking their lives for others. Exposing the risks and dangers they face are the main
purpose of the thread. Any more information to come regarding the health of these heroes should be posted here.