March 19, 2011

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a fact sheet regarding the use of potassium iodide (KI) during radiation emergencies in light of the nuclear power plant explosions in Japan.

Radiation is a form of energy that occurs naturally in our environment. There are different types of radiation, some of which are more harmful to humans than others.  The length of  time of exposure, the total amount of exposure, and the nature of the exposure are important factors in determining the potential harm caused by exposure to  radiation.

Radioactive contamination occurs when radioactive material is deposited on or in an object or a person.

Our bodies need iodine, which we normally get from certain foods that we eat,  to make thyroid hormones. Potassium iodide (KI)  is a stable, nonradioactive iodine in a medicine form.

Radioactive iodine, which may be released into the air after a nuclear accident such as a nuclear power plant release of radiation into the environment as may have recently occurred in Japan, can enter into the lungs and be quickly absorbed by the thyroid gland, which can damage the thyroid gland. Because potassium iodide blocks radioactive iodine from being absorbed by the thyroid gland, it may help protect the thyroid gland from injury. However, potassium iodide does not protect the body other than the thyroid gland and it does not protect the body from any other radioactive elements other than radioactive iodine.

Potassium iodide does not provide 100% protection. The level of protection depends on several factors, including the time between exposure to radioactive iodine and taking potassium iodide, how fast the potassium iodide is absorbed into the bloodstream, and the total amount of exposure to radioactive  iodine.

A single dose of potassium iodide protects the thyroid gland for 24 hours. Higher doses and taking potassium iodide more often provides no more protection and may cause severe illness or death.

People who are allergic to iodine or have certain skin disorders should not take potassium iodide.

Potassium iodide should not be taken unless and until instructed to do so by appropriate local public health or emergency management officials. Only FDA-approved potassium iodide should be taken and only when appropriate.

We recommend that you read the entire CDC fact sheet, which you can find here.

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