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March 22, 2011 > A Message to Our Community About Iodide Tablets and Radiation Exposure

A Message to Our Community About Iodide Tablets and Radiation Exposure

We're all aware of the tragedy surrounding the recent devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan. We're also following the recent concerns in Japan about potential issues arising from the radiation exposure from damage to some of Japan's nuclear power plants.

As a result, there have been discussions in the media about the best action to take against the potential dangers of radiation exposure. In light of the conflicting messages and opinions that have recently surfaced, there are many unanswered questions related to this topic. Even though it is unlikely, some people are concerned about exposure to radiation if a nuclear cloud could somehow float from Japan to the shores of California.

This fear has lead to a run on iodide tablets (Potassium Iodide) at local pharmacies. Potassium Iodide, which stops the body from taking in radioactive iodine from a nuclear emergency, can be purchased without a prescription.

One of the questions posed is whether stockpiling iodide tablets is the right precaution to take. U.S. Surgeon General, Regina Benjamin, has stated that stockpiling tablets was not an overreaction and that it is right for people to be prepared.

Other officials monitoring the situation like Kelly Huston of the California Emergency Agency say that people don't need to buy the tablets.

"Even if we had a radiation release from Diablo Canyon (in San Luis Obispo County), iodide would only be issued to people living within a 10-mile radius of the plant," Huston says.

Santa Clara County's public health director, Dr. Martin Fenstersheib, is not recommending people to purchase the tablets, adding that some people can be severely allergic to the iodine.

"There is no reason for doing it," Fenstersheib added.

In order to better understand the use of iodide tablets, it's important to know what iodide is, what it's used for and what it doesn't do with regard to it's effectiveness for treating exposure to nuclear radiation.

What is Potassium Iodide?

Potassium Iodide is a salt of stable, as opposed to radioactive, iodine. It's an important chemical needed by the body to make thyroid hormones and most of it comes from the food we eat.

What Potasssium Iodide Does

Following a radiological or nuclear event, radioactive iodine may be released into the air and breathed into the lungs or taken into the body through contaminated food or drink. Radioactive iodine can injure the thyroid. Because non-radioactive stable iodine can block the absorption of radioactive iodine, iodide tablets can help protect the thyroid from injury.

What Potassium Iodide Doesn't Do

* Does not protect parts of the body other than the thyroid
* Cannot reverse damage caused by radioactive iodine
* Cannot protect from radioactive elements besides iodine
* If radioactive iodine is not present, iodide tablets are not protective

Consult Your Physician if You Have Questions

You should consult your physician or other health care professionals before you take iodide tablets or any other medicine. For further information and recommendations about this topic, visit the following websites:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission:
U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA):

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