The health status of approximately 1 million immigrants in the United States and Israel may have been adversely affected by radiation exposure as a result of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster and cleanup efforts. Many of these immigrants suffer from significant psychological distress, fearing that they have a radiation-induced illness. Based on a review of the literature and our experience from the US National Chernobyl Registry Coordinating Center, we recommend that medical management of these immigrants include routine physical examination, with particular attention to the thyroid gland. Adults should receive regular cancer screening as well as routine blood chemistry tests, thyroid function tests, complete blood cell count, and urinalysis. Children should be examined regularly, with attention to the thyroid and overall body growth. It is reasonable for children to undergo thyroid studies, a complete blood cell count, or neuropsychiatric testing if there is clinical suspicion of a disorder. Given the long latency period for disease induction by radiation exposure, it is still too early to fully assess and draw conclusions concerning the possible health effects of the Chernobyl disaster, and long-term follow-up of all potentially affected individuals is important.
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