Hollywood and lack of training are causing medical professionals to unfairly fear nuclear attacks, according to a new study.
The study from the University of Georgia surveyed over 400 emergency medical workers from the United States and Japan and found that more than half had not received any formal training on radiation-related health issues.
The researchers surveyed emergency medical personnel about their training in radiation procedures, whether they would show up to the site of a nuclear attack, whether they knew appropriate treatment protocols and their knowledge of past nuclear attacks.
Respondents didn’t know what kind of personal protective equipment they would need when caring for a radiation-exposed individual and also incorrectly identified what the immediate medical need was after the bombing in Hiroshima (respondents guessed thermal burns when lacerations from shattered glass was the answer).
In this photo dated 14 March 2011, Japanese medical personnel checks a mother and son for radiation exposure in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear meltdown.
Many of the respondents also said they would be hesitant to go to the site of a nuclear disaster, despite the fact that there has been no recorded instance of a medical provider of a radioactively contaminated person becoming injured from providing treatment.
The report said the history of the Nagasaki and Hiroshima attacks, as well as the more recent nuclear meltdowns at Chernobyl and Fukushima and fears of a brewing conflict with North Korea spurred them to conduct this research.
The researchers said most high-level expertise in nuclear radiation remains with very few military and civilian sectors. When it comes to the general population of medical and public health professionals, however, there is a dearth of training and knowledge of the effects and best procedures. “What we found was that medical personnel were actually more afraid of radiation than they were of biological or chemical events,” the study’s lead author Cham E. Dallas said in a statement. Dallas is the director of the Institute for Disaster Management at the University of Georgia’s College of Public Health.
Dallas says that Hollywood bears some of the blame. Movies and TV tell people that little can be done in the wake of a nuclear event, but that assumption is false.
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“As terrible as it might be,” he said, “it’s far more manageable than emergency professionals realize.”
Dallas says more training for medical and health care professionals for radiation and nuclear disasters are necessary, as it seems these events are becoming inevitable.
“We’re about to turn the corner on this into a far more likely landscape of nuclear events, and we are not ready,” said Dallas. “It’s a problem.”