Nuclear bombs and health

Nuclear bombs and health

The medical effects of a nuclear blast upon humans can be put into four categories: the "initial" stage, the first 1-2 weeks, the greatest amount of deaths are in this period with 90% due to thermal injury and or blast effects and 10% due to supralethal radiation exposure, the "intermediate" stage from 3-8 weeks the deaths in this period are from ionization radiation in the median lethal range, and the "late" period lasting from 8-20 weeks, this period has some improvement in survivors condition and the "delayed" period from 20+ weeks. The last section is characterized by “numerous complications, mostly related to healing of thermal and mechanical injuries coupled with infertility, subfretility and blood disorders caused by radiation.” The next problem is that ionizing radiation from fallout causes genetic effects, birth defects, cancer cataracts and other effects in organs and tissue.

Lethal Radiation Syndromes

There are numerous lethal radiation syndromes including prodromal syndrome, bone marrow death, central nervous system death and gastrointestinal death.Coggle, J.E., Lindop, Patricia J. "Medical Consequences of Radiation Following a Global Nuclear War." The Aftermath (1983): 60-71.]

Prodromal syndrome

First of all Prodromal (initial) syndrome, a dose of 150 rads or less is not lethal, but it will cause gastrointestinal distress i.e. anorexia, nausea, fatigue and possibly diarrhea.

Bone marrow death

Bone marrow death is caused by a dose of radiation between 200 and 1000 rads and is characterized by the part of the bone marrow that’s makes the blood being broken down. Therefore production of red and white blood cells and platelets is stopped by division of precursor stem cells ceasing(450 rads kills 95% of stem cells). The loss of platelets greatly increases the chance of fatal hemorrhage. While the lack of white blood cells causes septicemia infections. The fall in red blood cells is minimal and only cause mild anemia.

The exposure to 450 rads of penetrating gamma rays has many effects that occur at different times:

In 24 hours:
*diarrheaThese will usually abate after 6-7 days.

Within 3-4 weeks there is a period of extreme illness.
*sever bloody diarrhea indicates intestinal disorders which will cause fluid imbalances
*extensive internal bleeding
*septicemia infections

The peak incidence of acute BM death corresponds to the 30 day nadir in blood cell numbers. The number of deaths then falls progressively until it reaches 0 at 60 days after irradiation. The amount of radiation greatly effects the probability of death. For example over the range of 200 to 600 rads the probability of death in untreated adults goes from about 1% to 99%, but these figures are for healthy adults. Therefore results may differ because of the thermal and mechanical injuries and infectious conditions.

Central nervous system death

Central nervous system death is the main cause of death in 24-48 hours among those exposed to 5000 rads.

Central nervous system death is irreversible and the symptoms are:
*frequent seizures
*respiratory failure

Gastrointestinal death

Gastrointestinal death is caused by a dose of radiation between 1000 and 5000 rads. Whole body doses cause damage to epithelial cells lining the gastrointestinal tract and combined with the bone marrow damage is fatal. All symptoms become increasingly severe causing exhaustion and emaciation in a few days and death within 7-14 days from loss of water and electorates.

The symptoms of gastrointestinal death are:
*Gastrointestinal pain

Short term effects ( those who don’t die in 6-8 weeks)


First of all the skin, which is susceptible to beta-emitting radioactive fallout. The principal site of damage is the germinal layer. But the most rapid response is erythema (reddening) due to blood vessels congestion and edema. Erythema that lasts 10 days occurs in 50% of people exposed to 500-600 rads

Other effects with exposure include:
*200-300 rads temporary hair loss
*700 rads permanent epilation occurs
*1000 rads itching and flaking occurs
*1000-2000 rads weeping blistering and ulceration will occur


Next in the lungs, the most radiosensitive organ, is radiation pneumonitis can occur which leads to pulmonary insufficiency and death(100% after exposure to 5,000 rads of radiation), in a few months. Radiation pneumonitis is characterized by:
*Loss of epithelial cells
*Occlusions of airways, air sacs and blood vessels and blood vessels

The Ovary

In the Ovary a single dose of 100-200 rads will cause temporary sterility and suppresses menstruation for periods up to 3 years; while a dose of 400 rads will cause permanent sterility.

The Testis

In the testis 10 rads will cause low sperm count for up to a year, 250 rads will cause sterility for 2 to 3 years or more and 400 rads will cause permanent sterility.

Long Term Effects

Cataract Induction

These symptoms may take 6 months to 30 years to develop but they have median time of 2-3 years.
*200 rads of gamma rays cause opacities in a few percent
*600-700 rads can seriously impair vision and cause cataracts

Cancer induction

Is most significant long term risk of a nuclear bomb. 1 out of every 80 people exposed to 100 rads would die from cancer. Still twice as many people will get cancer as that die from it. But, Different types of cancer take different times for them to appear:
*2 years for leukemia to appear
*20 or more for skin or lung cancer

In Utero Effects

100 rads dose of radiation will cause between 0 and 20 extra cases of perinatal mortality, per 1,000 births and 0-20 cases of sever mental sub normality. But 5 rads will increase death due to cancer 10 times, to 5 per 1,000. Last of all an antenatal dose of 100 rads in first trimester risk of fatal cancer will increase to 100%.

Blast Effects

Immediate post attack period

The main causes of death and disablement will be injuries caused by blast effects on buildings and thermal burns (Heat of the blast high enough to cause 3rd degree burns to the full thickness of the skin), not the pressure wave. This is because the human body can survive up to a 30 psi pressure wave but most buildings can only withstand a 12 psi blast.

Therefore, the fate of humans is closely related to the survival of the buildings around them. Because of this in many cases the injured would out number the survivors. Unfortunately the destruction of medical facilities would make this much worse.Middleton, Hugh. "Medical Consequences of Radiation Following a Global Nuclear War." The Aftermath (1983): 50-56.]

Fate within certain peak overpressure

* >12 psi - 98% dead 2% injured
* 5-12 psi - 50% dead 40% injured 10% safe
* 2-5 psi - 5% dead 45% injured 50% safe

Long term

The main long term effects of a nuclear blast are infectious diseases caused by contaminated water, sewage, crowded living conditions, poor standard of living lack of vaccines. These diseases include:
*Infectious hepatitis
*Meningococcal meningitis
*Whooping cough
*Blood poisoning


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