Safety After Radioactive Iodine Treatment
A guide to minimizing radioactive exposure and contamination after treatment with radioactive iodine 131.
While adhering to the dietary restrictions leading up to radioactive iodine 131 treatment can be challenging, taking care to protect others after the treatment can be even more distressing. Because radioactive iodine 131 is dangerous (it’s the same stuff the Utah Downwinders got hit with after the open air nuclear tests of the 50s and early 60s), great care needs to be taken to ensure that those around you are not exposed to dangerous levels of radioactivity. Following is a guide to what you can expect and what you should do after your treatment.
Depending upon your dosage, you may spend one or two nights in the hospital, isolated from others. If this is the case, you will be asked to change your own sheets and clean up your own messes, with all materials to be placed in safe containers. It is unwise to take any beloved items with you, as they may be so irradiated that they will need to be disposed of. This includes laptops, MP3 players, and other such devices. A good rule of thumb? If you aren’t okay with tossing it in the trash, don’t bring it with you.
Some researchers recommend sucking on lemon candies for the first few days after treatment in order to flush out the salivary glands, which, like thyroid tissue, absorb iodine. While other researchers see no benefit, it’s certainly not harmful, so why not?
Also important is drinking plenty of liquids, preferably water. The more water you drink, the faster your body is able to eliminate the radioactive iodine.
Once home, there is a long list of things you should and shouldn’t do. Following these instructions closely can make all the difference when it comes to protecting those around you.
First and foremost, distance is very important the first 3-5 days. You should maintain a distance of at least 3 feet from everyone (even more distance when it comes to small children and pregnant women), with no more than one hour each 24 hours of closer contact (this includes riding together in a car). In other words, you can throw out a hug or two (no kisses or otherwise intimate activity!), but otherwise, keep your distance.
Also of great importance? Be CLEAN! Flush the toilet 2-3 times after using it, rinse out the tub after bathing (and bathe frequently), wash your hands thoroughly after each bathroom trip, and wear surgical gloves around the house to minimize leaving a “nuke” trail on such things as keyboards, door knobs, etc. If you have more than one bathroom, designate one as the “nuclear loo,” and have it serve only your needs during the first 3-5 days after treatment.
Related is oral hygiene—make sure you thoroughly rinse your toothbrush, and be prepared to discard it after five days in favor of a new, non-nuclear brush.
While washing your contaminated clothing and bedding/linens (which should also be done frequently) does not require any special approach, you should keep your laundry separate from others in your household. The same goes for silverware, dinnerware, and glasses/cups you use. These items should be set aside for you and washed separately from the main load after each use. A good approach is the purchase of disposable dishes and utensils—it’s safe to dispose of them normally, and it eliminates any worry about others using your things.
While these steps and restrictions may seem onerous, they are meant to protect those you love, those who come in contact with your frequently. By following these steps, you drastically reduce others’ exposure to radioactivity, and also ensure that items in your household are not contaminated and/or damaged by the levels of iodine present early on—certainly worth a few days of inconvenience!
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