Doctors Try to Ease Radiation Exposure Fears

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With several Japanese nuclear plants crippled by Friday's earthquake and tsunami, radiation poisoning -- or Acute Radiation Syndrome -- has become a real threat for residents of the island nation.

People continued to line up in northern Japan Tuesday for radiation screening -- many of them fearful.

"If they test me I will be relieved," one woman said.

While the threats of radiation mount, doctors hope to ease the fears of those affected.

"People are very scared of radiation because they can't see it," explained Bill McBride of the University of California's Department of Radiation and Oncology.

But he added that medical advances in treating radiation victims are showing promise.

"I think it is important for people to realize that radiation is not a death sentence," McBride continued. "We have actually very encouraging kind of data with some of these compounds which suggest that we actually take someone exposed to radiation and treat them."

Symptoms of radiation sickness include nosebleeds, vomiting blood, blistered skin, hair loss, a higher risk of cancer, and genetic mutations that can be passed to the next generation.

Oncologists are working on medicines that clean radiation from the blood as well as agents that stimulate the body's immune system.

Meanwhile, experts around the world are also concerned about nuclear terrorism.

For years, Israel's home front command has held emergency drills to prepare the nation for nuclear, biological, and chemical attack by hostile nations or terrorists.

"Certainly there is a possibility of terrorist incidents with radiation, these kind of nuclear accidents and so on," McBride said.

Anxiety has also spread across the Pacific, as stores in northern California ran out of iodine -- the most well-known radiation treatment.

"Definitely heard it's going to protect our thyroid from radiation and with all the trade winds coming, they could be here in five or seven days," northern California resident Shauna Frank said.

McBride said the possibility of nuclear accidents or even radiological terrorism always exists. Nevertheless, experts say nuclear power is generally safe and poses no threat to human health.

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John Waage

John Waage

CBN News Sr. Editor

John Waage has covered politics and analyzed elections for CBN News since 1980, including primaries, conventions, and general elections. 

He also analyzes the convulsive politics of the Middle East.