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March 1984

The Longest Illness: Effects of Nuclear War in Children

Am J Dis Child. 1984;138(3):293-298. doi:10.1001/archpedi.1984.02140410071021

• The destruction of civilization that would follow a nuclear war would render any disaster ever recorded insignificant. Millions of people would perish during the first few hours, and many more would die in the months to come. Survival would exist only in the strictest sense of the word, since societal disorganization, famine, drought, darkness, and nuclear winter would envelope the earth. The comparative frailty of children and their dependence on adults would render them most susceptible to the acute effects of a nuclear holocaust. Furthermore, studies of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan bombings showed a disproportionate propensity for children to experience leukemias and other cancers years after the bombings. There were also great increases in perinatal deaths and cases of microcephaly and retardation in children exposed in utero to the bombs. In the event that there are future generations after a nuclear war, the issue of heritable genetic effects will become important. Suggestions of permanent genetic damage are emerging from the Hiroshima and Nagasaki studies. By comparison, the genetic effects of modern weaponry will be incalculable.

(AJDC 1984;138:293-298)