August 4, 2006

Radioisotope treatment can trigger airport alarms

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - A case report illustrates how
someone being treated with radioisotopes may be sufficiently
radioactive for several weeks to set off radiation detectors at

"Patients receiving radioactive isotopes should be warned
that they may trigger radiation alarms," say Dr. Kalyan Kumar
Gangopadhyay and colleagues from City Hospital in Birmingham,


The report in the British Medical Journal describes a
46-year-old man with an overactive thyroid problem. Drug
therapy was initially successful in treating his symptoms, but
he eventually needed treatment with radioactive iodine to
reduce thyroid activity.

The hospital department providing the treatment gave the
man a card outlining the precautions to be taken following his
treatment. However, the card made no mention of the possibility
of setting off radiation detectors.

Six weeks later, the patient made a trip to the US, where
he activated security alarms at the airport in Orlando,
Florida. He was detained, strip-searched, and sniffer dogs were
called to investigate. After a prolonged interrogation, the
patient was eventually released after producing the card given
to him by the hospital.

Depending on the type of radioisotope used, patients may be
capable of triggering a radiation alarm for up to 95 days, the
report indicates.

"Doctors show a worrying lack of awareness about such
potential problems," the researchers note.

They note that with more sensitive radiation detectors
being installed at airports worldwide, there is a good chance
that alarms caused by radioisotope-treated patients will

SOURCE: British Medical Journal, August 5, 2006.