Archive for the ‘Acute Radiation Syndrome’ Category

From the Physician’s Desk … Weekly Blog!

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As a Radiation Oncologist … anything with the headline “Radiation” always captures my immediate attention.  A truck with Radioactive material was stolen in Mexico, it was undoubtedly for the truck as the “Cobalt-60” radiation source, is a gift that keeps on giving!

Cobalt-60_Per report however, the radioactive source was properly shielded. However, should the robbers become excited and/or curious and open the containers – expecting money or gold – it is highly likely that they will be presenting to an ER close by with Acute Radiation Syndromes (ARS).

Cobalt-60 is a synthetic radioactive isotope with a half-life of 5.2yrs. It emits beta and gamma rays. The Beta decay energy is low and easily shielded, but the gamma-ray emission lines have energies ~1.3 MeV and are highly penetrating = dangerous. How dangerous?


(old) Cobalt 60 machine used in treating cancer patients

“In 2000 a disused radiotherapy head containing a 60Co source was stored at an unsecured location in Bangkok, Thailand and then accidentally was sold to scrap collectors. Unaware of the dangers, a junkyard employee dismantled the head and extracted the source, which remained unprotected for a period of days at the junkyard. Ten people, including the scrap collectors and workers at the junkyard, were exposed to high levels of radiation and became ill. Three of the junkyard workers subsequently died as a result of their exposure, which was estimated to be over 6 Gy. The source was safely recovered by the Thai authorities.”

Acute Radiation Syndrome (ARS), also known as radiation poisoning, radiation sickness or radiation toxicity is a constellation of health effects which present within 24 hours of exposure to high amounts of ionizing radiation. The radiation causes cellular degradation due to damage to DNA and other key molecular structures within the cells in various tissues. The onset and type of symptoms depends on the radiation exposure (type of energy and duration).

Read more about Radiation Exposure and ARS by Clicking HERE

The prodrome (early symptoms) of ARS typically includes nausea, vomiting, headaches, fatigue, fever and short period of skin reddening. These symptoms may occur at radiation doses as low as 35 rad (0.35 Gy). These symptoms are common to many illnesses and may not, by themselves, indicate acute radiation sickness.

  1. Hematopoietic. This syndrome is marked by a drop in the number of blood cells.  This may result in infections due to low white blood cells, bleeding due to low platelets, etc., These changes can be detected by blood tests after receiving a whole-body acute dose as low as 0.25 Gy.
  2. Gastrointestinal. This syndrome often follows absorbed doses of 6–30 Gy (600–3000 rad).  Nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, and abdominal pain are usually seen. Vomiting in this time-frame is a marker for whole body exposures that are considered to be in the fatal range.   Death with this dose is common if not treated appropriately.  The death is generally more due to infection than gastrointestinal dysfunction.
  3. Neurovascular. This syndrome typically occurs at absorbed doses greater than 30 Gy (3000 rad), though it may occur at 10 Gy (1000 rad).  It presents with neurological symptoms such as dizziness, headache, or decreased level of consciousness, occurring within minutes to a few hours. It is invariably fatal.


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