Suicide: Statistics, Warning Signs and Prevention

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Suicide: Statistics, Warning Signs and Prevention

Credit: Antonio Guillem | Shutterstock

For immediate help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.

Every year, 1 million adults report making a suicide attempt, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Worldwide, 800,000 people die due to suicide every year, according to the World Health Organization(WHO).

“For reasons we don’t fully understand, some people reach such depths of despair and pain that they begin to believe that they would be better off dead,” said Dr. John Campo, the chair of psychiatry and behavioral health at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

Though suicide often seems mysterious and unpreventable, it can be stopped, experts say. Talking openly about people’s suicidal thoughts and keeping them away from lethal means (such as firearms) can save lives.

Improving diagnosis of mental health conditions can help, too. Most people who commit suicide have seen a doctor within the last year, but many do not get diagnosed with the mental illness that will ultimately kill them. [5 Myths About Suicide, Debunked]

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), over 44,000 people try to commit suicide each year in the United States. In 2015, suicide was the second leading cause of death in people 15 to 34 years of age and third leading cause of death in children aged 10 to 14, according to the CDC.

Men are four times more likely than women to kill themselves, and 77 percent of U.S. suicides are completed by men, the CDC said. This disparity is partially due to men choosing more lethal means to kill themselves: 56 percent die by firearm. Women are more likely to attempt suicide by self-poisoning.

“Women more likely to attempt suicide, and men more likely to complete [it],” Campo said.

There are racial disparities in suicide, as well. American Indians, Alaskan Natives and white men are at the highest risk. Asian/Pacific Islanders have the lowest suicide rate for men, and African Americans have the lowest rate for women, according to the CDC.

An increase in suicides among middle-age Americans from 2005 to 2010 may have been in response to the economic recession of 2007, a 2015 study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found. Also, adolescents and young adults in rural areas are more likely to commit suicide than those in urban regions, a 2015 study in the journal JAMA Pediatrics found.

Popular media may also increase suicide rates. A study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that, since the 2017 release of Netflix’s series “13 Reasons Why,” suicide queries increased online 19 percent. That’s between 900,000 and 1,500,000 more suicide related searches in the 19 days that followed the series’ release. While this can be dismaying news, the study found that the search terms like “suicide hotline” and “suicide prevention” were part of the increase.

For reasons not fully understood, suicides are more common in spring. This springtime peak may be the result of a loss of hope as the weather warms but life doesn’t seem to improve for the depressed person. Alternatively, increased sociality during warmer months could put extra pressure on someone who is struggling. Some scientists even believe that inflammation from spring allergens could exacerbate mental illness, though those connections are unproven.

The biggest risk factor for committing suicide is having previously attempted to kill oneself. The vast majority of people who do kill themselves have a mental illness. More than 90 percent of people who kill themselves have a mental disorder, either depression, bipolar disorder or some other diagnosis, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). [Suicide: Red Flags and Warning Signs]

Substance abuse is another risk factor, in part because drugs and alcohol lower inhibitions, making it easier for people to act on their suicidal thoughts. One-third of people who killed themselves in 2009 had alcohol in their systems, according to the CDC. About a fifth (20.8 percent) tested positive for opiates, which include prescription pain medications and heroin.

People with a family history of suicide, childhood trauma or who have impulsive aggression are more likely to commit suicide themselves, Campo said. For people with an underlying mental illness, stressful situations (such as bullying, relationship conflict or unemployment) can increase risk. Suicide can also be contagious, which is why suicide prevention groups advise that media reports about suicide avoid sensationalism or descriptions of the act.

Immediate warning signs that someone may be in a suicidal crisis include:

  • Feelings of hopelessness or desperation
  • Insomnia
  • Panic attacks
  • Social isolation
  • Irritability
  • Rage
  • Feelings of being a burden

Each year, World Suicide Prevention Day is September 10. While this day is important to bringing about awareness, any day is a good day to help others who may be struggling with hopeless thoughts or depression. Between 50 percent and 75 percent of people who attempt suicide talk about their suicidal thoughts, feelings and plans before the act, according to the AFSP.

Many suicidal people struggle intensely with ambivalence, and it’s important to guide them toward help, Campo said.

“They want to live, they want to die,” Campo said. “People are in a quandary. They’re in terrible pain. The important thing for suicidal people to understand is that it passes.”

If someone is acting suicidal, the AFSP recommends talking with them immediately and openly. Many people view suicide as a taboo subject, and Campo told Live Science that he often has to ask his patients repeatedly about suicide before they admit to thinking about or planning their death.

Asking about suicidal thoughts does not put those thoughts into people’s heads, so finding out if they have a specific plan is important. Let the person know you are concerned and focus on getting them proper mental health treatment.

“Make sure your friend feels comfortable opening up and communicating with you. Ask questions and avoid judgments,” said Caroline Fenkel, apsychotherapist at Newport Academy, a treatment centers for teens struggling with mental health issues, eating disorders and substance abuse. “Listening is essential to building a bridge between you and a friend. Love and understanding come first. Understanding, compassion, empathy, and setting aside judgment go a long way. Encourage them to speak to someone who can help them address what they’re feeling. It’s okay to tell adults what’s going on if you feel it might save your friend’s life.”

“Your goal isn’t so much to really talk them out of it,” Campo said. “Your goal is to help engage them and get them involved with some help so that they can get the treatment that they need.”

Also, do not leave a suicidal person alone, and remove drugs, sharp objects and firearms. Access to lethal means during a suicidal crisis is a major risk factor for suicide. Call 911 or get the person to a psychiatric clinic or emergency room for help.

Here are some resources for those suffering from suicidal thoughts and those that want to help them:

I want to commit suicide, I have a plan and I don’t think I can stop myself.

Call 911. Don’t worry, you won’t be arrested. The 911 operator will get you the help you need. Typically, someone with training in suicide prevention will come to your location, talk to you, and help you with a plan that will keep you alive.

I have no one to talk to about my feelings.

Remember, even if you don’t feel like there’s someone who wants to listen, there is. You can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255. They are available 24 hours a day and you don’t have to tell them your name. They are there to listen and to help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline also has an online chat that is available all day, every day.

The National Suicide Hotline also lets you text your feelings to someone who cares. Text CONNECT to 741741 and a trained crisis counselor will text back. The counselor is there to listen and help you create a plan to keep you safe.

I am LGBTQ. I want to talk to someone who understands me.

The Trevor Project specializes in talking with youth in the LGBTQ community. You can call them any time at 866-488-7386. They also have achat service, here, or you can text Trevor to 202-304-1200 Monday through Friday between 3 p.m. and 10 p.m. Eastern time or noon and 7 p.m. Pacific time.

I am being abused and I feel like I have nowhere to turn.

If you are in immediate danger, call 911. If you need someone to talk to or to help you come up with a plan, call Safe Horizon at 866-621-HOPE (4673).

I’ve been sexually assaulted and feel like my life is over.

The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) offers help to those who have been affected by sexual assault. You can call them at 800-656-HOPE (4673) or start a live chat on their website.

I don’t know if I would call myself suicidal, but I am depressed and I’m having some dark thoughts.

Suicide Prevention Services of America have a line you can call that is focused on those with depression at 630-482-9696.

What should I do if I see a friend post on social media that they may want to take their life?

“Communication is key, and love and understanding come first. Let your friend know that they are not alone,” said Fenkel. “Contact teachers, coaches, and other adults in your friend’s life to let them know that your friend needs help. Also, don’t hesitate to access professional help.”

What are some resources that can help a parent whose child may feel suicidal?

The Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide has a great online resource for parents who think their child may be at risk. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline to find help in your area.

Additional reporting by Alina Bradford, Live Science Contributor.

Additional resources

Why Do Ticks Spread So Many Diseases?

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Why Do Ticks Spread So Many Diseases?

Credit: Roman Prokhorov/Shutterstock

There’s a long list of diseases that you can get from a tick bite, including some that can actually kill you. In fact, the tiny bloodsucking critters can transmit a wider variety of bacteria, viruses and parasites than any other arthropod, a category that includes not only ticks but also insects such as mosquitoes.

More than 80 species of ticks are found in the United States, and about a dozen of these species can bite humans and are considered medically important, said Rebecca Eisen, a research biologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Division of Vector-Borne Diseases in Fort Collins, Colorado.

Moreover, infections from tick-borne diseases in the United States are increasing steadily, and the geographic range of ticks that transmit diseases is also expanding, Eisen told Live Science.

Geographically, the greatest expansion of deer ticks (which spread Lyme disease) has been observed in northeastern and north-central states, while remaining stable in southeastern states, according to a recent report on ticks by Eisen and her colleagues published in the Institute for Laboratory Animal Research (ILAR) journal. The expanded range of this tick may be a result of increasing populations of white-tailed deer, increasingly warmer temperatures and reforestation (the replanting of trees), experts say. [10 Important Ways to Avoid Summer Tick Bites]

As ticks spread into new areas and more cases of tick-related illnesses are reported each year, scientists are discovering new species of ticks capable of transmitting disease, Eisen said. Since 2000, six new species of disease-causing ticks have been recognized in the U.S., she said. For example, a new species of tick has recently been detected as a cause of Lyme disease in the upper Midwest that has not yet been found in the eastern U.S.

Ticks are known to spread nine bacterial diseases, such as Lyme disease(caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi) and Rocky Mountain spotted fever (caused by the bacterium Rickettsia rickettsia); four viral infections, including Powassan disease; and one illness linked with a parasite, babesiosis (Babesia microti).

Just three species of ticks are responsible for most U.S. cases of tick-related illness, Eisen said: the blacklegged tick (Ixodes scapularis); the Lone Star tick (Amblyomma americanum) and the American dog tick (Dermacentor variabilis).

The blacklegged tick, also called the deer tick, is found in the northeastern and upper midwestern United States, and can transmit Lyme disease, babesiosis, anaplasmosis and Powassan disease. The Lone Star tick, which is found in the eastern and southeastern U.S., can spread tularemia. And the American dog tick is found mainly east of the Rocky Mountains and can transmit Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

Lyme disease is the most well-known tick-borne illness. People who catch it may develop a red-ringed “bull’s-eye” rash, along with flu-like symptoms. As the infection progresses, there may be facial-muscle paralysis or nerve pain. Each year, about 30,000 cases of Lyme disease are reported to the CDC, but because of undiagnosed cases, the actual number of people in the U.S. with the disease is likely 10 times higher, Eisen said.

Troubling trends

What makes ticks so hospitable to such a wide array of disease-causing agents?

Ticks are parasites, so they have to feed on blood in order to reproduce, said Greg Ebel, a professor and director of the Arthropod-borne and Infectious Diseases Laboratory at Colorado State University in Fort Collins. This means ticks often associate with other animals because they need blood from these hosts to survive, he said.

For example, the ticks that are carriers of Lyme disease feed only one time during their larval stage, one time during their nymph stage and once in adulthood, Ebel told Live Science. They need each of these blood meals to molt and develop to their next stage of life, he explained.

Ticks don’t have wings, so they can’t fly, Ebel noted. In their early stages of development, larvae hang around in leaf piles, looking for mice and birds, and they can acquire infections by feeding on infected hosts, he said. Nymph and adult ticks may crawl onto blades of grass or shrubs. Nymphs may attach to medium-size animals, like chipmunks, and adult ticks may latch onto larger ones, like deer or dogs, Ebel said.  [Video: A Tick Bite Visualized]

Ticks typically spread disease by attaching to the skin of the host, which creates a wound, Ebel said; while ticks are taking a blood meal, they spit their infected saliva into the wound.

Adult female ticks may feed on a host for several days, which can increase their chances of picking up a pathogen that they may later pass along. And some disease-causing agents can be passed from infected female ticks into her eggs, so hatching larvae may already be infected.

Tick-bite prevention

Ticks are not specifically adapted to feed on people, Ebel said. For the most part, when a tick bites a human, it’s by accident, he said.

If, for example, a person is walking by tall grasses or thick vegetation, and a tick senses movement or warmth or smells carbon dioxide, the tick might attach to a human by mistake, thinking it’s an animal capable of giving it a blood meal, Ebel said.

Several factors may be contributing to the rise in tick-borne illnesses. There are more ticks in places where they have always been, and there are now ticks in places where they never were, Ebel said.

More ticks, of course, mean more tick bites.

In turn, there’s more transmission of disease-causing agents, but there is also increased awareness of tick-borne diseases among health professionals, as well as improved technologies to diagnose these illnesses, Ebel said.

Prevention can be challenging because ticks are difficult to control, Eisen said. Community-wide strategies to reduce the number of ticks — such as spraying vegetation with pesticides in areas where people are likely to encounter ticks or using deer fencing to keep animals away from homes — have not always been socially acceptable, she said.

But there are some steps people can take on their own to avoid tick bites:

  • Know which ticks are common in your area. Avoid places with thick vegetation, tall grass and leaf piles, where ticks often live, Eisen recommended.
  • Use insect repellent containingdiethyltoluamide (DEET). Put it on exposed skin when outdoors in areas that may be infested during the spring, summer and early fall, when ticks are most active.Treat clothing and camping gear with the insecticide permethrin, Eisen suggested.
  • Check for ticks. Shower as soon as possible after coming indoors, and check your body, clothes and gear for ticks. Treat dogs and cats with a product designed not to bring ticks into the home, Eisen said.

“The sooner a tick is found, the better a person’s odds are of not becoming infected,” Eisen said.

Originally published on Live Science.

What Do You Do with a 26-Pound Diseased Liver? Donate It to a Medical School

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What Do You Do with a 26-Pound Diseased Liver? Donate It to a Medical School

This 26-lb. (12 kilograms) liver was donated to a medical school in Queensland in Australia.

Credit: The University of Queensland

Talk about a massive donation: A medical school in Queensland, Australia, just received a diseased liver that weighs more than 26 lbs. (12 kilograms) and is about eight times the size of a healthy liver.

Cysts caused by hereditary polycystic kidney disease (PKD) distorted and enlarged the organ, which was donated to the University of Queensland’s (UQ) Integrated Pathology Learning Centre by Fiona Murray, UQ representatives announced in a statement.

Murray, a resident of New Beith, Queensland, received a kidney and liver transplant in 2014; during her wait for donor organs to become available, the size of her liver made her look and feel like she “was pregnant for seven-odd years,” Murray said in the statement. [27 Oddest Medical Case Reports]

A healthy liver typically measures about 6 inches (15 centimeters) wide and weighs between 2.6 and 3.3 lbs. (1.2 to 1.5 kg). An enlarged liver can hint at a range of diseases, including heart disease, some genetic diseases and certain types of cancers, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Fiona Murray, a kidney and liver recipient, donated her polycystic liver to The University of Queensland.

Fiona Murray, a kidney and liver recipient, donated her polycystic liver to The University of Queensland.

Credit: The University of Queensland

In Murray’s case, her enlarged liver was covered in cysts — noncancerous sacs filled with fluid — caused by PKD, a diagnosis she received when she was 25 years old, according to the statement. PKD is a genetic disease that causes numerous growths on a person’s kidneys and liver, and can eventually lead to kidney failure, the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center explained on its website

Organ donation saved Murray’s life, but the diseased condition of her unusually expanded liver made it impossible for her to act as an organ donor for medical purposes. So she opted to donate her liver to the university center for students to examine and learn from it, calling the decision a “no-brainer” in the UQ statement.

“That was my way of sharing and giving people knowledge,” she said.

Her liver will have a lot of company in its new home — about 5,000 specimens are housed in the Integrated Pathology Learning Centre collection, representing medical research of human diseases dating to the early 20th century. The center’s oldest specimen is a lung that belonged to a man who died of tuberculosis in 1935, according to the center’s website.

Original article on Live Science.

Why Are These Water Buffaloes Covered with Tiny Frogs?

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Why Are These Water Buffaloes Covered with Tiny Frogs?

n one case, dozens of marsh frogs were foraging on a single buffalo back.

Credit: Zduniak et al.

Water buffaloes wallowing in the wetlands of northern Turkey are carrying some unlikely passengers on their backs — tiny frogs.

Researchers spotted the buffalo-riding amphibians — marsh frogsPelophylax ridibundus — in the Kizilirmak Delta along the coast of the Black Sea, a region with freshwater and brackish lakes, and plentiful marsh vegetation alongside farmlands and pastures.

From April to November, domesticated Anatolian water buffaloes (Bubalus bubalis) are released from their pastures to roam the marshes. And when they do, they collect frog hitchhikers, which forage on the buffaloes’ shaggy bodies for flies. Birds are known to play a similar role with some types of mammals, but this is the first study to describe this type of mutually beneficial relationship between large mammals and amphibians, the scientists wrote. [Daring Duos: Photos Reveal Unlikely Animal Friends]

In the natural world, there are many examples of the strategy known as mutualism — when two species interact for their mutual benefit. In Borneo, small mammals called tree shrews lick nutritious nectar from a carnivorous pitcher plant, which they in turn nourish by depositing their poop inside its insect-snaring pitcher trap. Cuckoo chicks “reward” the hardworking species they trick into fostering them by secreting a substance that repels predators. And many bird species — such as the oxpecker — survive on insects and parasites that they pick from the fur of their mammalian hosts.

But prior to this study, there was little evidence that amphibians could share a mutualistic relationship with big mammals, the scientists reported.

The study authors observed the buffaloes on 12 occasions over seven days in October 2012, and recorded 10 instances of individual buffaloes that were festooned with frogs, most of which were actively foraging. Some frog-carrying buffaloes were standing and some were lying down, and the frogs were gobbling flies from positions across the big animals’ backs, with some even squatting on the buffaloes’ heads.

For tiny marsh frogs in Turkey, a water buffalo is like a walking buffet.

For tiny marsh frogs in Turkey, a water buffalo is like a walking buffet.

Credit: Zduniak et al.

Fly catching appeared to be the frogs’ primary reason for taking up temporary residence on the buffaloes’ backs. But it’s also possible that the small amphibians benefited from the body heat of the large mammals, which likely warmed the frogs when air temperatures were cooler, according to the study.

As many as seven buffaloes at a time hosted fly-eating frogs on their backs, the scientists noted. One buffalo carried a total of 27 frogs and another carried 19 frogs — though the average number of frogs per buffalo was typically between two and five — and the frogs foraged “in a similar manner as birds on large mammals,” the study authors reported.

Additional observations the following year confirmed that the frogs only exhibited this behavior in the fall, perhaps because their population density was higher during this time of the year, leading to greater competition for food, the scientists suggested in the study.

The findings were published in the June 2017 issue of the open-accessjournal Acta Herpetologica.

Original article on Live Science.

Fire and Fury: How to Survive a Nuclear Attack

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Fire and Fury: How to Survive a Nuclear Attack

A gigantic mushroom cloud billowed over Nagasaki, Japan, when an atomic bomb was dropped on the city in 1945.

Credit: U.S. National Archives

North Korea has successfully miniaturized a nuclear warhead that could be fitted onto an intercontinental ballistic missile, and has now threatened to attack Guam, a U.S. territory, according to several news reports.

In response, President Donald Trump used some apocalyptic rhetoric of his own.

“North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States,” Trump told reporters on Tuesday at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, according to news reports. “They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.” [7 Strange Facts About North Korea]

The saber rattling has raised concerns about the possibility of a nuclear attack on U.S. soil and heightened fears of doomsday. But is a global nuclear winter just around the corner?

While the effects of a detonation on American soil would certainly be scary and could set off a larger global catastrophe, one nuclear attack in itself isn’t a certain death sentence, as many people assume, said Michael May, a professor emeritus at the Engineering-Economic Systems and Operations Research Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University.

In addition, survival rates depend on whether the weapons are deployed by a well-armed hostile nation like Russia; a country, like North Korea, that has with a limited nuclear arsenal; or a terrorist group, he said. It also depends on how far people are from the epicenter, May said.

When most people think of nuclear war, they imagine a Cold War-type, mutually assured destruction scenario in which two countries lob a flurry of nuclear weapons at each other, decimating each other’s military, food and power infrastructure and raining radioactive fallout on large swaths of the world.

But despite the current tensions with Russia, a terrorist attack using a dirty bomb — a nuclear weapon patched together from explosives and radioactive nuclear waste — or a lone attack from a country such as North Korea is slightly more likely, May said. While the United States has a prototype nuclear missile-defense shield, this technology doesn’t work very well, Live Science previously reported. Still, the likeliest scenario would be one detonation, rather than the hundreds that would leave America a post-apocalyptic wasteland, May said. [Doomsday: 9 Real Ways Earth Could End]

“If it’s a lone, single weapon, [then] outside that central area, there’s a pretty good chance of survival,” May told Live Science.

Even Cold War analyses that forecasted a complete war of annihilation between Russia and the United States would likely result in “only” 40 million casualties on American soil, said May. Of course, the food and water infrastructure would likely be destroyed in such a scenario, leading to catastrophe, he added.

The worst effects would likely be felt in the heart of an urban blast zone, May said.

For instance, for a 10-kiloton nuclear weapon, equivalent to the size of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs, would immediately kill about 50 percent of the people within a 2-mile (3.2 kilometers) radius of ground detonation, according to a 2007 report from a Preventive Defense Project workshop. Those deaths would be caused by fires, intense radiation exposure and other fatal injuries. Some of these people would be injured by pressure from the explosion, while most would be exposed to injuries from collapsed buildings or from flying shrapnel;  most buildings in a 0.5-mile (0.6 km) radius of the detonation would be knocked down or heavily damaged.

Injuries to extremities would be extremely common, according to the Preventive Defense Project study. A few people would be injured by thermal burns caused by the fireball after the detonation. People in this area may also be exposed to extremely high levels of radioactivity, and many first responders and search-and-rescue workers would have to wait to enter these areas until the radiation levels had dropped, meaning assistance would be limited. [Top 10 Ways to Destroy Earth]

People with subsurface basements in the primary blast zone may be able to survive the primary blast, assuming there’s only one, May said.

Even those who are a mile away from the epicenter of the explosion may have time to increase their survival odds; the light flash from the detonation travels much faster than the pressure and shock waves, meaning people may have a bit of time to close their eyes, move away from windows, duck and cover themselves, according to the Preventive Defense Workshop report.

The next immediate hazard to deal with is the radioactive fallout. When a nuclear bomb explodes, it pulverizes thousands of tons of earth, comingling that material with radioactive particles from the explosion. This process forms the iconic mushroom cloud, and as those thousands of tons of radioactive bits of ash, rock and dust float toward the ground, they emit radioactivity. The largest, heaviest particles of this nuclear snow settle first and are mostly contained in the initial blast area.  Smaller particles may float higher and farther and reach 10 to 20 miles (16 to 32 km) downwind, but the bulk of their radioactivity rapidly decays over time and they often take a long time to settle back to ground level.

In the absence of snow or rain — which would help to pull the fallout to the ground faster — far-flung particles may have minimal radioactivity by the time they float to Earth, according to the handbook “Nuclear War Survival Skills” (Oak Ridge National Laboratory, 1987)

By 48 hours after the blast, an area that is initially exposed to 1,000 roentgens per hour of radiation will experience only 10 roentgens per hour of radiation, according to “Nuclear War Survival Skills.” About half of the people who experience a total radiation dose of about 350 roentgens over a couple of days are likely to die from acute radiation poisoning, according to the handbook. (A typical abdominal computed tomography scan may expose people to less than one roentgen.)

Those in the blast area can take some measures to protect themselves, if they have some warning. For example, they can go into a heavily reinforced building and stay away from windows; fall to the ground and cover their bodies (duck and cover), waiting at least 30 seconds after the blast for the shock wave to hit; and remain in a shelter until word comes that it’s safe to evacuate. After the blast, people should remove their outer clothing and shower if possible to remove radioactive particles. [Top 10 Largest Explosions Ever]

In a full-scale nuclear war, there may be more long-term contamination of the food supply. For instance, fallout may land on croplands and be taken up by the food supply, which could then cause longer-term problems such as cancer, May said. Radioactive iodine, in particular, could be a problem, he said.

“Cows are concentrating the iodine in the milk, and children concentrate the iodine in the milk into the thyroids,” leading to thyroid cancer, May said.

Nuclear detonations also cause electromagnetic pulses (EMPs) that can damage a wide range of electrical and communications equipment, especially within a radius of 2 to 5 miles (3.2 to 8 km) from a ground-level, 10-kiloton explosion. Vehicles could stall, communications and cell towers would be disrupted, computers would be destroyed, and the water and electrical grid could also be destroyed. First responders that come in from outside the area with unaffected electronics should still be able to operate their devices, according to the 2007 report.

Among preparatory steps people can take, the coordination and planning of first responders would likely have the biggest effect on casualty levels, but individuals can also take a few easy preventive steps, May said. The ultrawealthy may build high-end bomb shelters, but even the average person can take steps to minimize risks, he said. Some of those steps — such as having extra food, water and first-aid supplies available — will work for other emergencies, too.

Other steps may be unique to a nuclear attack. For instance, respiratory protection, such as cheap face masks or even cloths held over the nose and mouth, can help reduce radiation exposure, according to the workshop report.

Nuclear attacks would also necessitate equipment for measuring radiation. People who are waiting to emerge from their shelter after a blast will want to know which areas have dangerous levels of radiation.

“You might get yourself a radiation meter. They don’t cost very much,” May told Live Science.

Other safety tips: Keep a radio to maintain communications with the outside world. This radio can be placed in a metal storage box to protect it against EMPs, along with a sealed, large plastic bag for containment to protect against humidity, according to the “Nuclear War Survival Skills” handbook.

Originally published on Live Science.