Doctors Lack Many Ways to Treat Radiation Exposure
I'm Alex Villarreal with the VOA Special English Health Report, from http://voaspecialenglish.com | http://facebook.com/voalearningenglish Countries across Asia and beyond reported small amounts of radiation after the nuclear accident in Japan in March. But officials said these levels were not a threat to public health.On March twenty-ninth, Chinese officials reported low levels of radioactive iodine-131 in areas of southeastern China. These included Guangxi, Guangdong and Shanghai. Earlier tests found the material in the northeastern province of Heilongjiang. In South Korea, nuclear safety officials said they found radioactive iodine in Seoul and several other areas. Traces from the Fukushima power station have also been found as far away as Britain and the United States. Radioactive iodine loses half its strength in a week. But more dangerous materials, including plutonium, have also been found near the power plant.Some medicines, like Prussian blue pills, can help expel radioactive elements from the body. But there are not a lot of treatments for radiation exposure. The best known treatment is potassium iodide. The pills flood the thyroid gland with non-radioactive iodine. The thyroid gland is a small organ in the neck that requires iodine for good health.People exposed to high levels of radioactive iodine can get thyroid cancer. The pills block the thyroid from absorbing radioactive iodine and reduce the cancer risk. But the pills are not a cure for radiation sickness. And they work only if the radioactive iodine has been taken into the body through food or drink. The World Health Organization has warned the public not to use potassium iodide unless health officials advise them to. WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl says the pills have their own risks. He says incorrect use of the product can cause side effects. These include inflammation of the salivary glands, nausea, rashes, intestinal upset and possible severe allergic reactions. It can also interact with other drugs.The crisis in Japan resulted from the loss of cooling systems after the March eleventh earthquake and tsunami. In the United States, the Armed Forces Radiobiology Research Institute is looking for more effective treatments for radiation exposure. The institute is working with a company called Onconova on one possible treatment known as Ex-Rad. Onconova officials say Ex-Rad has shown promise in tests on animals, but several more years of research are needed.For VOA Special English, I'm Alex Villarreal. To read and hear more health news, go to voaspecialenglish.com from your computer or mobile device. (Adapted from a radio program broadcast 30Mar2011)
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