The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has scheduled a briefing for later this month to outline how the public can prepare for nuclear war.
“While a nuclear detonation is unlikely, it would have devastating results and there would be limited time to take critical protection steps. Despite the fear surrounding such an event, planning and preparation can lessen deaths and illness,” the notice about the Jan. 16 briefing says on the CDC’s website, which features a photo of a mushroom cloud.
The notice went on to say that most people don’t know that sheltering in place for at least 24 hours is “crucial to saving lives and reducing exposure to radiation.”
Two of the people presenting at the briefing specialize in radiation studies. Robert Whitcomb is the chief of the radiation studies branch at the CDC’s National Center for Environment Health and Capt. Michael Noska is the radiation safety officer and senior advisor for health physics at the Food and Drug Administration.
Both former Vice President Joe Biden and Admiral Mike Mullen have said in recent days that they worry the U.S. has never been closer to nuclear war with North Korea.
Medical Treatments (countermeasures) for Radiation Emergencies
Cutaneous Radiation Injury (CRI)
Prenatal Radiation Exposure
Initial Deaths and Delayed Deaths
A radiation emergency (from a nuclear detonation, dirty bomb, or nuclear power plant accident) may result in initial deaths during the emergency and delayed deaths after the emergency.
Initial deaths would occur at or near ground zero, caused by the blast, heat, prompt radiation, or flying debris.
Blast injuries would include perforated ear drums, lung and gastrointestinal injuries, trauma due to flying debris, fractures and crush injuries, smoke inhalation, and exacerbation of chronic conditions.
Heat or thermal injuries (from direct absorption of thermal energy) would include flash burns and flame burns caused by ignition of clothes or indirect effects of fires.
Delayed deaths would occur from
Injuries sustained in the initial blast
Acute Radiation Syndrome (ARS)
Combination of injuries and ARS
Clinical effects decrease with increasing distance from the denotation; therefore, it’s important to know the location of injury or death of the decedent.
Exposure to radioactive materials also increases risk of malignancies years after exposure.
Deaths Caused by Acute Radiation Syndrome
Radiation emergencies may lead to Acute Radiation Syndrome. ARS occurs when a person is exposed to very high levels of radiation, usually over a short period of time. These 3 types of ARS may result in death:
Hematopoietic syndrome (absorbed dose 0.70 – 6 Gy)
Nausea and vomiting (within hours), reduced lymphocyte count (1-2 days), reduced neutrophil and platelet count (days to weeks), infection, possible death within 30 days. Survival is possible, but less likely with combined injuries (thermal burns or trauma).
Gastrointestinal syndrome (absorbed dose 6 – 10 Gy)
Nausea and vomiting (within about an hour), reduced lymphocyte count (one day), reduced neutrophil and platelet count (less than one week), severe infection, bloody diarrhea, dehydration, death from 3 to 10 days. Very few will survive at this absorption dose level even with treatment. Survival not possible with combined injuries (thermal burns or trauma).
Neurovascular syndrome (absorbed dose 20 – 50+ Gy)
Nausea and vomiting (within minutes), mental status changes (disorientation), shock, cerebral edema, death within 48 hours. Survival not possible.
Documenting Death Certificates
If you determine that radiation emergency played any role in the death, please document this on the death certificate. If the information is not recorded, it will be lost. The death will not be coded correctly, and the death will not be counted as related to the event.