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Iodide Pills Don’t Block Radiation Sickness

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Aired 3/15/11

Fear over the escalating nuclear crisis in Fukushima Daiichi, Japan has led to increased sales of potassium iodide pills in San Diego. But do they work?

A bottle of Potassium Iodide is seen at the West Marin Pharmacy on March 15, 2011 in Point Reyes Station, California.
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Above: A bottle of Potassium Iodide is seen at the West Marin Pharmacy on March 15, 2011 in Point Reyes Station, California.

— Potassium iodide is an inorganic salt and not a drug. It protects the thyroid from cancer by crowding out radioactive iodine ingested from contaminated wind, water and food. But that kind of contamination is not expected along the West Coast, so there is no need for the pills, experts say.

Daniel Einhorn, M.D., a thyroid specialist and medical director at Scripps Whittier Diabetes Institute in La Jolla said the pill only protects against cancer.

Potassium iodide protects from one thing and one thing only. It protects form the possibility of thyroid cancer that is induced by the ingestion of radioactive iodine” said Einhorn.

But, iodide pills do not protect against plutonium or other kinds of radiation sickness, said Einhorn.

“It does not prevent any other aspect of radiation. There is certainly no reason whatsoever for San Diegans to be taking potassium iodide right now.”

If you take potassium iodide when you don’t need to, it’s not likely to hurt you explained Einhorn. He also said allergic reactions to potassium iodide are rare.

San Diego is more than 6,000 miles away from Japan’s nuclear crisis.

On Tuesday evening, data from monitoring stations throughout state did not show a surge or spike in radiation levels.

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