Health experts sound warning over iodine rush

Mar 15, 2011 by Amy Coopes

Japan's nuclear crisis has sparked panic buying of iodine pills, with online bids exceeding $500 for a single packet, but health experts hosed down the hysteria and warned the pills are of limited use.

As fresh blasts rocked a stricken atomic plant on Japan's east coast, and crews worked frantically to cool reactors that emitted dangerous levels of radiation near the facility, jitters spread to Tokyo and beyond

US-based firms selling potassium iodide, a radiation sickness preventative, completely ran out of stock and pharmacies across the country's Pacific-facing West Coast had a rush on the over-the-counter pills.

"We are quite slammed with orders, but we are working as fast as we can to get orders out," said NukePills.com, which had sold out of iodine tablets and was fast exhausting oral liquid supplies.

"We are experiencing delays in shipping due to the Japan nuclear crisis. A delay in shipping may be a week or more."

Potassium iodide is a salt used to saturate the to block the uptake of radioactive iodine, a highly carcinogenic substance that can leak from nuclear reactors in an accident.

Another major supplier, Anbex, said it was also out of stock and didn't expect new orders until April 18.

One packet of 14 pills had attracted bids of up to $540 at online auction house and talk about radiation poisoning was so feverish on Twitter and other forums that the issued a statement urging calm.

"Consult your #doctor before taking #iodine pills. Do not self-medicate!" the WHO said on its Twitter page.

Iodine pills are "not radiation antidotes" and offer no protection against such as caesium, the UN's health agency said, stressing they also carried health risks for some people, including pregnant women.

The WHO also cautioned against drinking or applying iodine liquid, commonly used as an antiseptic, after a rush on the wound cleaner in Asian countries, where iodine is typically only available in hospitals or by prescription.

"It is crazy, people have been reading about the situation in Japan and they are demanding iodine tablets but most pharmacies don't stock the tablets," said Kuala Lumpur pharmacist Paul Ho.

"There have also been text messages and emails going round that you can use the iodine antispetic solution, which you place around your neck, to help cut down on radiation absorption," she added.

"I don't know if its true but we have run out of all our iodine antispetic solution at the moment."

The text message, also circulating in China, Hong Kong and the Philippines, is billed as a "newsflash" from a major news organisation and urges Asian residents to "take precautions" including sheltering indoors and swabbing the thyroid region of the neck with iodine.

Malaysia's health minister Liow Tiong Lai dismissed the purported warning as "nonsense", saying there was "no need to apply such solutions to the neck and private parts."

"People must not panic. The health ministry is keeping very close tabs on the situation," he told AFP.

The assurances were echoed in Taiwan, where officials were preparing to hand out 100,000 boxes of iodine tablets to residents near two nuclear plants in New Taipei city, and also in Manila.

"Let me be very clear, we don't see the necessity for that," said Philippines Health Secretary Enrique Ona.

"We know where we can get it if necessary. But we are not going to order it yet."

Stephen Tsui, a biomedical expert from the Chinese University of Hong Kong, described the risk of contamination outside of Japan as "low" but said "all countries could be affected" in the region if the Fukushima plant had a total meltdown.

Explore further: New technology that is revealing the science of chewing

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Aussies need more iodine

Aug 19, 2006

Health experts say a serious deficiency of iodine is emerging among people living in Australia's eastern states.

California 'closely monitoring' Japan nuclear leak

Mar 13, 2011

California is closely monitoring efforts to contain leaks from a quake-damaged Japanese nuclear plant, a spokesman said Saturday, as experts said radiation could be blown out across the Pacific.

BUSM researchers encourage use of potassium iodide

Feb 25, 2009

Researchers from Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) are strongly encouraging prenatal vitamin manufacturers to use only potassium iodide and not other sources of iodine in their products. According to the researchers, ...

Fears of health risks rise amid Japan crisis

Mar 15, 2011

(AP) -- Fears about health risks rose dramatically in Japan Tuesday with news of a greater radiation release and renewed warnings to remaining residents within 20 miles to stay indoors.

Recommended for you

Obese British man in court fight for surgery

Jul 11, 2011

A British man weighing 22 stone (139 kilograms, 306 pounds) launched a court appeal Monday against a decision to refuse him state-funded obesity surgery because he is not fat enough.

2008 crisis spurred rise in suicides in Europe

Jul 08, 2011

The financial crisis that began to hit Europe in mid-2008 reversed a steady, years-long fall in suicides among people of working age, according to a letter published on Friday by The Lancet.

New food labels dished up to keep Europe healthy

Jul 06, 2011

A groundbreaking deal on compulsory new food labels Wednesday is set to give Europeans clear information on the nutritional and energy content of products, as well as country of origin.

Overweight men have poorer sperm count

Jul 04, 2011

Overweight or obese men, like their female counterparts, have a lower chance of becoming a parent, according to a comparison of sperm quality presented at a European fertility meeting Monday.

User comments : 0

More news stories

Low Vitamin D may not be a culprit in menopause symptoms

A new study from the Women's Health Initiative (WHI) shows no significant connection between vitamin D levels and menopause symptoms. The study was published online today in Menopause, the journal of The North American Menopa ...

Patent talk: Google sharpens contact lens vision

(Phys.org) —A report from Patent Bolt brings us one step closer to what Google may have in mind in developing smart contact lenses. According to the discussion Google is interested in the concept of contact ...

Tech giants look to skies to spread Internet

The shortest path to the Internet for some remote corners of the world may be through the skies. That is the message from US tech giants seeking to spread the online gospel to hard-to-reach regions.

Wireless industry makes anti-theft commitment

A trade group for wireless providers said Tuesday that the biggest mobile device manufacturers and carriers will soon put anti-theft tools on the gadgets to try to deter rampant smartphone theft.