Airborne radioactive material can have an effe...

Possible routes of radiation exposure. Image via Wikipedia

By Maureen Shawn Kennedy, editor-in-chief

The pictures are horrifying. First a 9.0 magnitude earthquake, then a tsunami, and now the Japanese people are perilously close to another disaster from radiation leaking from damaged nuclear power plants.

The death toll, already in the thousands, possibly tens of thousands, will undoubtedly climb without the intervention from disaster relief organizations, which may be reluctant to send their responders into areas with high radiation. After its ships and crew were exposed to radiation from a leaking reactor (the New York Times reported that the deck crew on the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan was exposed to radiation that “caused them to receive a month’s worth of radiation in about an hour”), the U.S. Navy repositioned its ships further off the coast of Japan as a precaution, and is conducting relief operations from the north, away from the wind currents.

There’s been much discussion in the media about the effects of radiation, what levels are harmful, etc, and nurses may indeed receive questions from patients or families with members participating in relief efforts. Here are two articles from AJN that will help you answer questions (they’ll be free until April 18):

Here’s an excerpt from the first of these two articles:

• Remove the patient’s clothing and dress him in
scrubs or a gown.
• Rinse contaminated areas of his body with saline
solution or deionized water.
• Shower or bathe him, using mild soap and
cool-to-warm water.
• After the bath, discard the sponge or washcloth
according to radioactive-waste disposal methods.
(The water should be saved in a drum or carboy;
clothing, sponges, and washcloths should be disposed
of in a radioactive-waste can.)
• Flush open wounds with saline solution or deionized
• Use standard sterile practices when administering
injections, suturing, or other procedures that puncture
or break the skin.

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