nos-trum. pronunciation: \nos'-trum\. noun. Etymology: Latin, neuter of noster our, ours.
1. a medicine of secret composition recommended by its preparer but usually without scientific proof of its effectiveness.
2. a usually questionable remedy or scheme.
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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Peope In CA Taking Potassium Iodide To Prevent Radioactive Iodine-Induced Cancer From Japanese Nuclear Accident

You've GOT to be kidding.  How many thousands of miles is it to Japan?

At first, I thought this was a joke, but then I saw an article on Kevin MD from Kevin himself.  He reports that pharmacies in California are running out of potassium iodide pills.

Guess what? The kind of radioactive particles that leak from reactors don't zap with the speed of light into the far reaches of the galaxy instantaneously.  They mostly fall to earth near by.

Worse, the media has jumped on the Panic Bandwagon and USA Today is telling people that they have to begin taking iodine several weeks before exposure to radioactive iodine in order for the radiation-induced cancer to be prevented.

I'm still astonished at the degree to which we--as a species--panic about things.

Let's review our past.  Some of these things seem laughable now.

1.  In the Fifties, families dug atomic bomb shelters in their back yard and stocked them with months supply of food.

2.  After the Three Mile Island reactor leak, measurements were taken of radioactive material in the vicinity of the reactor.  Only trace--and harmless--readings could be detected within a quarter-mile radius of the faciilty.

3.  In the early years of AIDS, an orthopedic surgeon was quoted as saying, "It's not a question of IF I get the disease, it's WHEN I will get it," predicting that everyone who touches someone with the disease would contract it.

4.  In the 1970's after several decades of a reversal of global warming, scientists were speculating that we were entering a new Ice Age.  It only took 30 years for them to "do a one-eighty."

5.  When Saddam lit the oil fires during Desert Storm, predictions were that the enormous smoke cloud would drift over Europe and change the climate for decades.  By the following year, there was no trace that the fires had ever occurred.

6.  When five people were killed in an anthrax attack some years ago--carried through the mail and confined to a single chain of mail handling--tens of thousands of people across the country wanted their doctors to prescribe the antibiotic Cipro, so they could take it...just in case.

7.  When the Gulf Oil Spill occurred last year, experts predicted untold damage to the ocean environment, until researchers discovered a bacteria in the depths of the sea that eats oil.  Oh yeah, we forgot that oil has been spilling into the ocean for hundreds of millions of years from earthquakes and the like.

There are many more.  The book to read is, Extraordinary Popular Delusions & the Madness of Crowds, by Charles Mackay, first published in 1841.

And, by the way, if I see another news story in the media explaining reactors and radiation effects, I'm going to commit seppuku.

Let's all take a deep breath, calm down, and use common sense.  The Japanese people have a definite public health problem to prepare for.  But we here in the US should probably spend our time looking at OUR reactors near the coast line (if we have them) for vulnerability to damage.  That would be more helpful than wasting money on iodine.

And, as the Kevin MD article says about taking potassium iodide without a clinical need, "there are side effects as well, including inflammation of the salivary gland, allergic reactions, and gastrointestinal side effects."

So, if you're worried about radiation effects, and want to take a pill, don't take iodine, take a Valium.*

Doc D
*Note.  For the litigious:  this is not a medical's sarcasm.

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