Monthly Archives: April 2017

The Japan Radiation Scare

As fires and explosions continue at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex, anxiety about radiation sickness mounts, including whether the disaster will ultimately affect the United States. A new explosion Tuesday morning was the third in four days at the plant — prompting Prime Minister Naoto Kan to encourage citizens within about 20 miles of the Fukushima complex to stay indoors to avoid exposure to radiation.

Not surprisingly, Japan’s tragedy has revived frightening memories of nuclear meltdowns at Chernobyl in 1986 and Three Mile Island in 1979, but the truth is all three were very different events. And as a result of Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, nuclear power plants today have adopted more stringent safety measures and backup containment programs.

“It’s important to remember that when Three Mile Island melted down, there was no unplanned release of radiation, and there were no deaths from radiation,” says Jeff Geuther, nuclear reactor facility manager at Kansas State University. People tend to get frightened by threats of radiation, but so far the levels detected outside of the immediate vicinity of the Fukushima power plant are not considered dangerous.

Related: Does Your Family Have an Emergency Plan?

According to news reports, officials in Tokyo (about 150 miles south of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactors) said radiation there was 10 times the usual level but still posed no threat to human health.

So just how concerned about radiation poisoning should you be? Everyday Health took your top questions to experts for answers.

1. Should West Coasters worry about radiation sickness?

Residents of Hawaii, the U.S. Territories, Alaska, and Washington, Oregon, and California should stay calm, experts say. Those contacted by Medpage Today (a sister company of Everyday Health) for the most part agreed that while radioactive particles will eventually reach the United States, the levels will be too low to impact people’s health.

“You have to consider a number of factors,” according to Tom Hei, PhD, Associate Director of the Center for Radiological Research at Columbia University Medical Center in New York, in an interview with Everyday Health. “How much radiation is being released into the atmosphere, the direction of the wind current, which compounds are being released, and their half-life — the amount of time it takes them to decay. From what we’ve heard so far, the radioactivity detected [in Japan] has been minimal.”

That’s because, thankfully, the release of radioactive particles seems to be confined to containment structures within the Japanese plant.

To further put things in perspective, keep in mind that when the United States tested nuclear and hydrogen bombs in the Pacific Ocean and dropped atomic bombs in Japan during World War II, they released “far more radiation than these [Japanese] power plants would ever come close to releasing, and it all dissipated in the atmosphere, at least from the standpoint of any health implications in the U.S,” said James Thrall, MD, radiologist-in-chief at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and president of the American College of Radiology, in an interview with MedPage Today.

2. Are there any long-term risks from the radiation leakage?

While acute radiation sickness is currently not a threat to people other than Fukushima workers or those who live in close proximity to the plant, the radiation leakage may have long-term health implications. After a large leak, about 75 percent of the radiation eventually winds up in the ground and water supply nearby, which means it can contaminate vegetation, livestock, and cow’s milk, says Leslie M. Beitsch, MD, director of the Center for Medicine and Public Health at Florida State University College of Medicine in Tallahassee. As people ingest contaminated food and water, their long-term risk for thyroid and other cancers, such as leukemia, increases. Thyroid cancercan take 8 to 12 years to develop after radiation exposure, according to the American Thyroid Association; leukemia can strike within a few years, according to the American Cancer Society.

The remaining 25 percent of the leaked radiation can stay in the atmosphere for extended periods of time, depending on particle size. “If that happens, it does become a global concern, because once these particles reach the upper atmosphere, they can disseminate everywhere,” says Dr. Beitsch. “It’s a potential risk, but a small one at this point.”

However, the radioactive particles would be so widely dispersed that the risk of exposure to any one person is extremely minor, Beitsch adds.

3. Who’s most at risk from radiation exposure?

Fetuses, infants, and small children face the greatest potential harm from radiation. That’s because radiation causes damage by mutating DNA in cells, which can lead to cancer. Because young children’s cells divide at a much faster rate than those of adults, they face potentially more serious long-term health issues, including neurological problems as well as cancer.

The factors that make for his happy lifestyle

What does the happiest man in America look like? According to a collaboration between The New York Times and Gallup, he’s Alvin Wong: a 69-year-old Chinese-American Jewish man, who’s married with children and lives in Honolulu. Wong runs his own health care management business and earns more than $120,000 a year.

Why is Wong so jovial? Because he meets the criteria of what makes for happy living, according to data that Gallup has collected from Americans over the last three years on such factors as emotional health, financial status, stress, healthy habits, and more. Gallup uses the data to create an algorithm called the Gallup Healthways Well-Being Index, which provides a daily glimpse into how well Americans feel. When the Timesasked Gallup to come up with a statistical composite for the happiest person in America based on their research, Wong fit the bill.

So what can the rest of us learn from Alvin Wong about our own chances for happiness? Here’s a look at a few factors that may contribute to a more blissful life, according to the Gallup Well-Being Index.

 

No. 1: Location, Location, Location — or Maybe Not

Wong’s home state of Hawaii ranks highest in the Well-Being Index with a score of 71 out of 100. Beautiful beaches and abundant sunshine are sure to put a smile on anyone’s face, but Hawaii is by no means the only state with happiness potential. In fact, within four points of the Aloha State are Wyoming, North Dakota, Alaska, Colorado, Minnesota, South Dakota, Utah, Connecticut, Nebraska, and Massachusetts — proving that you don’t have to live in a tropical paradise to be happy.

At the bottom of the index, the least happy states include Michigan, Louisiana, Nevada, Delaware, Ohio, Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Kentucky, and, in last place, West Virginia.

 

No. 2: Money Makes a Difference — to a Point

While Wong’s reported household income of $120,000 correlated with feeling good about his life, recent research shows that the magic number may actually be less than that — $45,000 less, in fact. The 2010 study from Princeton University showed that there may be diminishing returns on happiness once you’re earning more than $75,000 annually.

Beyond that number, most people didn’t experience an increase in day-to-day well-being, although they did report greater overall satisfaction with life. “It’s really important to recognize that the word ‘happiness’ covers a lot of ground,” study author Angus Deaton told HealthDay in After $75,000, Money Can’t Buy Day-to-Day Happiness. “There is your overall evaluation of how your life is going, while the other has to do more with emotional well-being at the moment. Higher incomes don’t seem to have any effect on well-being after around $75,000, whereas your evaluation of your life keeps going up along with income.”

Women to require urgent hospital care

Men are much more likely than women to require urgent hospital care within a month of being discharged from the hospital, a new study finds.

Researchers followed 367 men and 370 women for 30 days after they were discharged from the Boston Medical Center to determine if gender played a role in the need for follow-up urgent care, including readmission to the hospital.

The study was published April 18 in the online journal BMJ Open.

Men in the study were an average of about four years younger than the women, and tended to have better-paying jobs and more access to private health insurance. Women were more likely than men to have a family doctor and to have been diagnosed with depression at some time in the past, with twice as many women taking antidepressants.

The study found that the return rate for urgent care within 30 days of discharge was 29 percent for women and 47 percent for men. Men were twice as likely to go to the emergency room, according to a journal news release.

Many key factors predicted men’s return to hospital. They were 72 percent more likely to return if they were unmarried or retired, 64 percent more likely if they had not seen their family doctor since their discharge and 53 percent more likely if they were depressed.

“Our findings raise the possibility that social isolation — as illustrated by the positive association with being retired or unmarried, and [having] symptoms of depression — may be important factors to target for intervention,” wrote Dr. Suzanne Mitchell, of the department of family medicine at the Boston University School of Medicine, and colleagues, in the release.

The researchers noted that previous studies found that men’s social isolation tends to contribute to poorer health results for them, and that women are better at using health services.

Just Another Day in the ER

Emergency departments in areas blasted by this winter’s record snowfalls say the storms themselves have offered something of a respite from what has otherwise been a steady stream of heart attacks and injuries related to the freakish weather.

In Chicago, which is now digging out from its third biggest snowstorm ever, hospital staff told MedPage Today and ABC News that their emergency rooms are relatively quiet, although they expect to see more patients once people and cars venture out again.

A spokeswoman for Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago said in an e-mail early Wednesday that the emergency department “has only a handful of patients. This is not surprising to emergency room doctors due to the fact that it’s difficult to travel and people aren’t really walking in from the street.”

She said the hospital had a busy period during the night when “30 to 40 stranded motorists” who had been rescued from a huge traffic jam on Lake Shore Drive were brought in for warming, with some needing minor medical care as well.

Added a spokesman for the University of Chicago Hospital, “[Our ED is] as empty as I have ever seen it.”

Because hospitals in the Midwest had two days of warnings before the snow hit, they had plenty of time to prepare.

At Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, a spokesman said in an e-mail that seven patients with elective surgeries scheduled for Wednesday were brought in Tuesday “so they didn’t have to travel in the snow.” He said many surgeries had been rescheduled for later in the week.

“Hundreds of staff … spent the night at the hospital to ensure they would be on time for their morning shifts,” he added.

Along the East Coast, which has been struck repeatedly with heavy snows starting the day after Christmas, emergency personnel reported that they had seen waves of patients with weather-related problems immediately after each storm subsided.

Alan Jon Smally, MD, medical director of the emergency department at Hartford Hospital in Connecticut — where more snow and ice were expected Wednesday — told MedPage Today and ABC News in an e-mail that he anticipated “a lot of snowblower (severe) hand injuries, heart attacks (shoveling), and car crashes today and tomorrow.”

In New Jersey, where the snow totals through January were already about double the historical average for an entire winter, weather-related emergency department visits also appear to be running ahead of normal.

A spokeswoman for St. Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, N.J., said the hospital was seeing about two heart attacks related to snow shoveling with every storm, an increase over the norm.