Entries in Tsunami (7)


Radiation in US Milk: What It Means

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Milk from America's West Coast containing trace amounts of radioactive iodine is safe to drink, health officials say.

The Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration reported higher-than-normal levels of radioactive Iodine-131 in milk samples from California and Washington Wednesday. But the levels are 5,000 times below the danger threshold.

"These types of findings are to be expected in the coming days and are far below levels of public health concern, including for infants and children," the EPA said on its website.

A March 25 radiation reading from milk in Spokane, Wash. -- 0.8 picocuries per liter -- is more than 4,000 times less than that of a normal banana, which naturally contains radioactive potassium.

Agencies will continue to measure radiation levels in milk and other food products in the U.S. during Japan's ongoing nuclear crisis.

"Radioactivity levels in milk products are monitored, so it is unlikely that any significantly contaminated milk would make it to the marketplace," said Dr. Timothy Jorgensen, associate professor in the department of radiation medicine at Georgetown University Medical Center. "The U.S. population need not be concerned about this level of Iodine-131."

On March 28 the EPA reported very low levels of radiation in the air over Alaska, Alabama, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Nevada, Saipan, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands and Washington state.

On March 22, the FDA banned milk and produce imported from Japan's Fukushima, Ibaraki, Tochigi and Gunma prefectures.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Japan's Medical Situation Grave in Some Places, But Improving

STR/AFP/Getty Images(TOKYO) -- The massive destruction left in the aftermath of the tsunami and earthquake that rocked Japan nearly two weeks ago also left disaster-hit areas with a major medical crisis.

More than 300,000 people have been evacuated and are temporarily living in shelters, and parts of the disaster area have limited or no electricity, food, heat or clean water.

ABC News reached out to physicians near the front lines of the relief efforts and asked them for their perspectives on the health situation.  They said that while things are starting to improve, there's still a long way to go to recover fully.

Dr. Takashi Shiga, an emergency medicine physician at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, has just returned from Miyagi Prefecture, where much of the severe damage was done.  During the week he was there, Dr. Shiga spent time in Sendai, the hardest hit city, and Kesennuma, a city to the north.

He tended to patients at shelters as well as at the municipal hospital in Kesennuma.  Most of those who were initially injured critically have since died, casualties of the tsunami.  Hundreds of disaster medical assistance teams evacuated many survivors.

"The hospital was intact, but the infrastructure was damaged.  There was no Internet, no electricity, no water and no cell service," Shiga said.

Patients who were severely ill or injured were taken to other cities within 72 hours.  The remaining patients, Shiga said, suffered from stress-related insomnia or worsening of chronic conditions, high blood pressure, colds and constipation.  Medical supplies and medication have also been scarce.

Shiga also said the municipal hospital didn't get overcrowded because the clinic was shut down and only patients in dire need of treatment were admitted.  Other hospitals throughout the disaster haven't been as fortunate.  They are still overcrowded and dealing with shortages of medication and supplies, preventing critically ill and chronically ill people from getting the help they need.

"Hospitals in the disaster area are still crowded now," said Dr. Fuminobu Yoshimachi, director of the department of cardiology at Aomori Prefectural Central Hospital in Aomori City.  Yoshimachi has numerous colleagues in the areas most affected by the earthquake and tsunami.

He said he and other physicians have been trying to make their way to the disaster areas, but are in limbo because of bureaucratic challenges.  Local governments, the Red Cross and medical groups who have gathered to help have been unable to organize relief efforts.

"There is no chain of command," Yoshimachi said.  "If we want to go to help some area, it is rather difficult to determine when and where we should go, how we can go, what kind of drugs and support we should bring."

But Shiga says the response by the government and other agencies has been great.

"I think they did quite a good job handling it," he said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Japan Earthquake: Psychological Fallout Could Last Years

JIJI PRESS/AFP/Getty Images(TOKYO) -- The trauma doesn't seem to end for Japan: first earthquake, then Tsunami and now comes this. It's a country with more than 4,000 known dead, while nearly 10,000 more missing must cope with the threat of nuclear contamination.

Although officials are still struggling to meet the immediate, physical needs of survivors, the psychological wounds of this disaster, for those directly affected and the nation as a whole, will leave their imprint for years, even decades, to come, psychologists say.

Beyond the practical aspects of rebuilding, how does a devastated nation restore the minds and hearts of its people and stave off long-term psychological distress? Even as relief efforts fight to get food, baby formula, water, and oil to the affected region, post-trauma mental health care has already begun.

Psychiatric teams have gone into the area, says Dr. Makiko Okuyama, head of the Department of Psychosocial Medicine at the National Center for Child Health Development, who is part of the relief effort now in Japan.

After Japan's Kobe earthquake in 1995, "it was chaos," he says, but that disaster birthed Japan's first consolidated system for psychological aid following a crisis. "But this disaster is much more than we expected; too wide [of an] area and too much damage," he says.

Meeting physical needs is the first priority for psychological aid, he adds.

Back in Tokyo, the Japanese Society of Neurology and Psychiatry, the equivalent to the American Psychological Association, is meeting Friday night to discuss how it will handle the situation, says Dr. Fumitaka Noda, co-chair of the World Psychiatric Association and chair of the Japanese Society of Transcultural Psychiatry at Taisho University in Japan.

It will take a long and concerted effort on the part of mental health care workers in Japan, and most likely those abroad as well, to meet the psychological needs of the survivors in the coming weeks, months and years, says Reiko True, a clinical psychologist who worked with Kobe earthquake victims and was in Tokyo's Narita airport at the time of last week's earthquake.

"Since Kobe [Japan] has done a lot of preparation for dealing with "not only the physical and structural needs of a community, but to care for the psychological wounds of the people, but I think the needs now are overwhelming," she says. "Eventually, they will want and welcome help from the outside. What I'm hearing is that they are not prepared to accept mental health help from the outside yet, though." 

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Disaster Preparedness: How Ready Is the US?

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- Unlike troubled countries like Haiti, many experts agree that so far Japan, a developed country, has fared well overall in disaster preparedness, which is measured by the country's immediate response following an earthquake and tsunami.

But many may wonder whether Americans are as prepared to handle such natural disasters.

The United States has experienced an average of 50 natural disasters each year in the last decade, more than 560 total, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).  The agency documented eight natural disasters this year already, mostly severe winter storms and flooding.

While there are national and local emergency plans in place, making the big picture response appear satisfactory, experts say it's likely that most Americans themselves are not prepared to handle emergencies.

Indeed, many state and federal government organizations have their own set of challenges.  A survey released Monday by the American Medical Association suggested many state health departments have no plan in place to assess human radiation exposure should a radiation emergency similar Japan's nuclear plant explosion should take place.

But experts say what could be as concerning is that family preparedness fares far worse than any governmental infrastructure.

"It's really in the personal preparedness phase rather than the response phase that we need to be paying more attention [to]," said Jonathon Links, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Public Health Preparedness in Baltimore.

In fact, according to Links, most cities and towns across the United States have experienced some type of natural disaster.  Yet, it is estimated that only about 10 percent of households are prepared to handle emergencies.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


In Japan, Fukushima Evacuees Screened for Radiation

YOMIURI SHIMBUN/AFP/Getty Images(TOKYO) -- Evacuees from the 13-mile-radius danger zone surrounding Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant are being screened for radiation.

Japanese health authorities confirmed that at least 22 people have been exposed to radiation following the hydrogen explosion at the plant's No. 1 reactor building early Saturday morning. Up to 160 more are suspected to have been exposed while waiting for evacuation in the nearby town of Futabe, according to Ryo Miyake, a spokesman from Japan's nuclear agency.

A cooling system malfunction at the plant's No. 3 reactor could lead to a similar explosion.

Workers wearing masks and protective clothing are using handheld scanners to measure radiation after more than 300,000 were urged to flee the 450-square mile zone.

Officials have set up evacuation centers bordering the zone and are working to establish decontamination facilities.

Depending on the level of contamination, evacuees are being advised to dispose of clothing and shower. Potassium iodide is also being distributed to guard against thyroid cancer. Iodine is taken up by the thyroid -- a butterfly-shaped gland in the neck that produces hormones that regulate metabolism. Radioactive iodine in environment after a nuclear accident can cause thyroid cancer. But potassium iodide can block the radioactive iodine from entering the gland.

"One of the things after Chernobyl, you saw massive numbers of cancers in children. The radioactive iodine got into the grass, the cows ate the grass, it got into the milk," said ABC News chief medical editor Dr. Richard Besser. "If there is a big fallout, they'll tell people not to drink milk or eat food from that area."

Children and pregnant women are most at risk, Besser said.

Low-dose radiation has also been linked to cardiovascular disease.

Japanese authorities deny that the exposures reported so far pose any health risks.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


What Are the Health Risks of Radiation?

DigitalGlobe via Getty Images(TOKYO) -- The steam plume drifting from the Fukushima, Japan, nuclear plant that exploded after Friday's 8.9-magnitude earthquake and the looming possibility of a meltdown there have U.S. scientists warning of possible serious health risks.

Although the steel container protecting the plant's No.1 reactor was not damaged in the explosion, radiation levels near the plant rose to roughly twice that which constitute an emergency situation, according to Japanese officials, prompting a doubling of the evacuation radius to 20 kilometers.

Japan's nuclear safety agency has since reported a malfunctioning cooling system at a second reactor in the same plant.

"Members of the public are not in imminent danger at a distance of 20 kilometers, so long as they are not downwind," said John Williams, professor of nuclear and energy engineering at the University of Arizona.

But while the breadth of the evacuation zone may limit the risk of acute radiation sickness, the potential for chronic conditions, such as cancer and cardiovascular disease remains.

Edwin Lyman, a senior scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists, said wind over the Fukushima prefecture could boost radiation to cancer-causing levels up to 100 miles away. Tokyo, home to nearly 13 million people in 2009, is roughly 200 miles away.

Low dose radiation exposure is also linked to a heightened risk of cardiovascular disease, according to the National Research Council. 

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Clean Water, Shelter Among Top Health Concerns Following a Tsunami

STR/AFP/Getty Images. Tsunami tidal waves move upstream in the Naka river at Hitachinaka city in Ibaraki prefecture in Japan.(ATLANTA) -- After a tsunami hits, like the one that struck the northeastern coast of Japan Friday following an 8.9-magnitude earthquake, the primary public health concerns are providing survivors with clean drinking water, food, shelter, and medical attention for any injuries, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Flooding spurred by tsunamis can contaminate water and food supplies, posing a risk to people's health.  Furthermore, the giant waves can displace people from their homes, leaving them susceptible to insect exposure, heat, and several other environmental hazards.

Although the majority of deaths that result from tsunamis are related to drownings, the CDC says victims can be inflicted with many injuries, such as broken limbs and trauma to the head, as they are washed into debris and rubble left behind from the environmental disaster.  It is imperative that people be treated for these injuries before they worsen, especially in areas where not many medical resources exist.

It is not yet known how many people have been affected by the massive tsunami that hit Japan Friday, but the death toll is expected to be well into the hundreds. The full impact of the quake will be better known Saturday once daylight hits the region.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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