Friday, April 8, 2016

Preventing Radiation Sickness for Dummies

Not actually Erin.
& is used with permission.
PREVIOUSLY: Ionizing Radiation for Dummies

I'm not going to sugar coat this: if you absorb a high enough dose of ionizing radiation, you're going to die. The only thing doctors can do is pump you full of painkillers so that your last moments aren't spent in agony

A smaller dosage can be treated with blood transfusions, antibiotics (to keep bacteria from overwhelming your damaged immune system), and administration of binding agents. In some situations, bone marrow transplants may help.*

But all of this is rather academic, since "Go to the hospital to be treated by professionals" isn't practical in most of the post-SHTF scenarios that preppers plan for. Fortunately, there are things you can do to prevent acute radiation poisoning in the first place.

1) Keep It Off and Out of You
As I mentioned in Ionizing Radiation for Dummies, Alpha and Beta particles are not especially penetrating and can be stopped by skin or thick clothing. Since you won't know what kind of radiation you may be exposed to in an incident, the best course of action is to assume the worse but hope for the best.

If you are affected by a radiation emergency:
  1. Seek shelter immediately. The more matter you have between you and the radiation, the safer you are. 
  2. If you are unable to find shelter, cover as much skin as possible with as much clothing as you can safely wear (i.e. do not wear winter coats in the summer for more than a few minutes)
  3. Take special care to cover your hands, nose and mouth, and eyes. Although not ideal, gloves, sunglasses, and a shemagh or handkerchief tied over your face will work in this case. 
    • Why do this? Because while radiation on your skin is bad, radiation inside your body is far worse. 
  4. If you have an open wound, cover it immediately. 
Once safe, you must decontaminate yourself.
  1. Remove all outer clothing and place it in a bag or bin that is clearly marked as containing hazardous materials; the last thing you want to do is track it inside. 
  2. Wash yourself in warm soapy water, and shampoo your hair (but do not use conditioner; this will cause radioactive particles or contaminants to bind to your hair).
    1. Do not scrub vigorously! The last thing you want to do is irritate your skin or open a wound that allows contaminants inside your body.
    2. If you have a bandaged wound, waterproof it (a coating of vaseline or duct tape will do) before showering. Replace the bandage after the shower. 
  3. If you do not have access to a shower, wash as best you can; soap and water in a sink, or even a simple wet wipe if that is all you have. 
  4. Blow your nose to remove any contamination you may have inhaled. 
  5. These simple steps will remove 95% of all radioactive contamination. (However, if you've been exposed to ionizing gamma, x-ray, or neutron radiation, none of this will help; but see below. 
As a point of interest, these procedures are also the same for preventing radiation exposure from radioactive fallout, as illustrated in this video: 

A printable PDF of this information is here

For more information on decontamination, go to this Radiation Emergency Medical Management page. Decontaminating wounds is here; decontamination of children, the elderly, pregnant women and others is here.

2) Prevent Internal Contamination
If you have followed all of the above steps, then ideally you have prevented radioactive particles or particulates from entering your body... but we do not live in an ideal world. Fortunately, there are chemical agents you can take to prevent uptake of contamination, or flush it from your body. 

This prevents the thyroid (a gland necessary for survival) from absorbing radioactive iodine. A single Potassium iodide pill "fills up" the thyroid with non-radioactive iodine, rendering it unable to absorb radioactive iodine for 24 hours. 

This binds to radioactive cesium and thallium, preventing it from being absorbed by the body and allowing it to be expelled through defecation. 

While it is available in a 500 mg pill under the name Radiogardase, it is not available in the United States without a prescription. However, Survivalblog gives instructions on how intrepid preppers can acquire chemically pure Prussian Blue (not the paint pigment!) and put it in gel capsules for personal use. 

Much like Prussian Blue, DTPA binds to radioactive substances -- in this case plutonium, amercium and curium -- to prevent reuptake and speed its excretion from the body. 

Unfortunately, DTPA is an injection and is not available to average preppers. 

3) Pray
Unfortunately, there isn't anything else to do at this point without access to medical professionals (and if you have such access, you need to get there posthaste). Try and maintain a positive attitude, trust that your efforts were effective, and hope for the best. 

The "good news" about a lethal radiation dose is that you're going to know within 24 hours if you've been exposed or not. The bad news is that you could die quickly, or linger for days. The neutral news is that, as a prepper, you have the choice of going out quickly and painlessly via firearm rather than linger, if that is what you want. I'm not usually one to advocate suicide, but if I'm dying from radiation poisoning I'd rather not linger painfully. 

*The actual medical effects and treatments of Acute Radiation Syndrome are beyond the scope of this "for dummies" article; those interested in learning more are encouraged to start with Biological Effects of Radiation and Cutaneous Radiation Injury videos from the CDC, and then move on to what the Merck Manual and the Mayo Clinic say.

NEXT: Radiation Terminology for Dummies

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