The earthquake in Japan and the resulting aftermath have caused Americans to spring into action. Some Americans are spending their time raising funds for the American Red Cross while others are running to the store to buy potassium iodide pills which are available without a prescription. Disasters spark compassion in people. However, they also incite fear. Right now people’s fear of radiation exposure is running rampant throughout the United States.
The possibility of American’s getting sick from the radiation leaks in Japan is highly unlikely according to radiation experts. There is a radioactive cloud that is traveling across the Pacific Ocean which is expected to the reach southern California shores on Friday. There are a couple of reasons for this. One, the amount of radioactive iodine being released in Japan is minimal. Second, radioactive iodine has a very short life, meaning it typically only remains in the environment for 24 hours. By the time the cloud reaches the United States, it is expected to be so diluted that it will not present any serious health risks.
Still, many Americans are frantic about getting their hands on these magic pills. Anbex Inc. is only one company to sell out of the pills. They sold more than 10,000 packages of the pills and are not expected to get any more until April. Many stores throughout the United States are reporting they are sold out. Before you panic, let’s be clear about what these pills can and cannot do.
Potassium iodide pills produce thyroid hormones which in turn protects against thyroid cancer. However, they do not protect the rest of the organs in your body. Additionally, they do not protect people from other radioactive material. The pills will also not prevent radiation exposure from entering your body.
Even in a nuclear disaster, the pills are only recommended for infants, children, and pregnant women. All of which have active and developing thyroid glands which can be affected by radioactive iodine and cause cancer later in life. The pills are considered unnecessary for adults over 40 years old since adults have the lowest risk of developing thyroid problems and the highest risk of an allergic reaction to the pills. Furthermore, people with thyroid disease, certain skin disorders, and allergies to iodine should not take potassium iodide pills unless directed to do so by a physician.
Iodine pills are usually safe if taken as directed. Taking higher doses or taking the pills longer than recommended can result in severe illness and even death. A single dose lasts 24 hours and is typically enough to protect the thyroid gland. During a nuclear disaster public health officials will tell you if you need to take potassium iodine. Currently, people in the United States who live within ten miles of a nuclear power plant are given potassium iodide pills to keep on hand.