Study: NICU nurses exposed to more radiation than they think

A study of radiology images of infants at a Canadian hospital revealed what the researchers called a "disturbingly high incidence" of occupational radiation exposure for nurses.

Nurses' fingers are exposed to radiation when they stabilize the baby's pelvis and hold the arms above the head. Adult fingers were visible in 42 percent of 230 X-ray images of neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) patients studied by researchers at Royal University Hospital in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, according to a study published in this month's Canadian Association of Radiologists Journal and recounted in AuntMinnie.com, a picture archiving and communication system (PACS) site.

Researchers also were concerned to learn that the adult fingers were cropped out of the radiograph images before being sent to the PACS in a tenth of the cases.

"[N]ot only is the NICU nurse inappropriately exposed to radiation, but this source of occupational radiation exposure is then concealed by cropping during image processing," lead author Jordan Russell told AuntMinnie.com. "Had we not performed this investigation, 10 (percent) of occupational radiation exposure in the NICU would have gone unnoticed."

Better communication between radiology technologists and NICU personnel, as well as narrowing of the imaging beam, can help reduce excessive exposure to radiation, Russell said.

In related news, researchers reported this week in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine that exposure to MRI magnetic fields reduced mental dexterity among test subjects, particularly for skills requiring significant amounts of working memory.

Researchers from the Institute for Risk Assessment Sciences at Utrecht University in the Netherlands found that after high and medium exposures to the static magnetic field, volunteers took 5 percent to 21 percent longer to complete complex mental tasks than before the exposure, according to yesterday's HealthDay News article.

The static magnetic field is present even when the MRI is not being used for imaging, the article noted, with the results raising concern that the mental performance of surgeons and other practitioners working near MRI scanners could be compromised.

To learn more:
- see the X-ray study abstract
- read the AuntMinnie article (subscription required)
- here's the MRI study abstract
- check out the HealthDay story

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