The intensifying war in Ukraine has led to a surprising surge in the demand for potassium iodide pills. The fear of radioactive fallout from accidental or intentional attacks on Ukraine's nuclear plants is the trigger behind the surge.
If such an attack takes place, it will release radioactive iodine in the atmosphere, which can be absorbed by lungs or the thyroid glands.
What is Potassium Iodide (KI)?
According to Centers for Disease Control (CC), potassium iodide (represented as KI) is a salt of stable iodine that can help block radioactive iodine from being absorbed by the thyroid gland, thus protecting this gland from radiation injury.
Such an injury can harm the thyroid gland, which produces many hormones that regulate the body, and can even lead to cancer.
The CDC further said that table salt and foods rich in iodine do not contain enough iodine to block radioactive iodine from getting into your thyroid gland. It has advised against using table salt or food as a substitute for KI.
How does KI work?
The thyroid gland cannot tell the difference between stable and radioactive iodine. It will absorb both.
According to CDC, potassium iodide will block radioactive iodine from entering the thyroid. “When a person takes KI, the stable iodine in the medicine gets absorbed by the thyroid. Because KI contains so much stable iodine, the thyroid gland becomes saturated and cannot absorb any more iodine for the next 24 hours,” it added.
Prices go up
CNN reported that the inventories of manufacturers in the United States have depleted since the Russian invasion began. Then have hence increased the price of Thyrosafe potassium iodide tablets, available in the US.
London-based BTG Specialty Pharmaceuticals said it's also experiencing heightened demand for the company's potassium iodide products in the US, according to CNN.
Panic buying in Europe too
According to a report in Fortune, some Europeans fearful of an escalation in Russia's war on Ukraine have taken to stocking up on iodine tablets.
In Belgium, nearly 30,000 residents went to pharmacies for free pills after Russian President Vladimir Putin's announcement to put its nuclear deterrent forces on high alert, reported Brussels Times.
A report in Bloomberg said there is a 100-fold increase in demand for potassium iodide tablets in Finland since the Russia-Ukraine war began.
When should the pills be taken?
The potassium iodide pills must be taken only when there is an actual risk of imminent exposure to radiation. The CDC website says that taking a stronger dose of KI, or taking it more often than recommended, does not offer more protection and can cause severe illness or death.