Radiation's effects on human body can range from nausea to
September 30, 1999
Web posted at: 10:58 p.m. EDT (0258 GMT)
(CNN) -- Exposure to radiation can have a dramatic and
immediate effect on the human body.
The gastrointestinal system is very sensitive to radiation,
leading to nausea and vomiting immediately after exposure.
The blood system is often the hardest hit, although
antibiotics and transfusions may allow a recovery.
But severe radiation damage to the immune system can cause
overwhelming infections. And although nerves and the brain
are most resistant to radiation, acute exposure usually
results in damage to the central nervous system. High doses
can kill outright.
Medical Correspondent Eileen O'Connor looks at the medical lessons learned from the Chernobyl nuclear reactor accident.
Medical Correspondent Dr. Steve Salvatore looks at the effects of radiation exposure.
The long-term effects of radiation exposure can include
sterility, cancer and genetic damage that can be passed to
However, experts say there are three ways to minimize the
risk of radiation exposure:
- Time: Radioactive materials decompose and lose strength
over time. For some materials, the process is quick, but for
others, it takes centuries.
- Distance: The further away from the source of radiation,
- Shielding: In an exposed area, heavy, dense materials
such as lead offer protection.
As officials in Japan cope with radiation exposure from
Thursday's accident, they will also try to avoid some of the
mistakes made 13 years ago when a serious accident occurred
at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine.
People in the affected area were actually told to gather
outside, despite high levels of radiation still coming from
the plant. The pictures were part of an effort by the Soviet
government, then in power, to convince the outside world that
all was well.
Thousands of cases of thyroid cancer and leukemia resulted.
By contrast, in Japan, people in the area near the accident
were being ordered to stay inside their homes, to keep them
shielded from potential radiation.
Medical Correspondents Dr. Steve Salvatore and Eileen
O'Connor contributed to this report.
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Radiation Effects Research Foundation
U.S. Department of Energy Home Page
Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Network (EREN) home page
The Endocrine Society
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