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June 01, 2021

Radiation guide released for veterinary medicine

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In April, the International Atomic Energy Agency published guidance on protecting people and animals during veterinary use of ionizing radiation.

The document, “Radiation Protection and Safety in Veterinary Medicine” (PDF), is a 181-page entry in the IAEA Safety Reports Series intended for industries and occupations. It provides details on the safe use of radiation in imaging and treatment.

Dr. Wm. Tod Drost, executive director of the American College of Veterinary Radiology, said veterinarians in the U.S. would find that most of the information provided by the IAEA document is already included in state veterinary practice act regulations. But, he said, the safety report may provide a blueprint for countries that are developing their own regulations on the use of radiation in veterinary medicine.

“We are very fortunate in the United States that we have medical physicists who will probably be more familiar with this document from the IAEA, and they would be the ones who would go through this, see what kind of changes of recommendations would be in there, and then bring those forth to their regulatory agencies for any kind of a modification,” Dr. Drost said.

Veterinarian with cat reviewing its X-ray

The IAEA document describes measures to protect workers and the public and optimize radiation exposure of animals during veterinary uses of diagnostic radiology, imaging-guided interventions, nuclear medicine procedures, and radiation therapy.

“The new publication provides much-needed radiation safety recommendations to veterinary practitioners and regulatory bodies and is relevant for academic educational programmes in veterinary medicine, professional bodies and suppliers of imaging and therapy equipment used in veterinary medicine,” an IAEA announcement states. “It helps professionals to strengthen radiation protection and safety in line with the technological advances made in the field of veterinary medicine, with clear methodology on the use of radionuclides for diagnosis and treatment in animal health care and the management of radiation exposure to workers and owners from the animal and the waste it produces, which may be radioactive for a short period of time.”

The safety report itself states that, unlike human medicine, veterinary medicine often uses ionizing radiation outside dedicated health care facilities, such as in stables, on farms, and at zoos. Handling animals also often requires the presence of more people than just the veterinary practitioner, and that requires additional protective measures.

“The increasing public demand for best practice animal care will result in advanced imaging equipment being installed in more veterinary medicine facilities, which will require suitably trained personnel with the necessary expertise to carry out procedures safely,” the document states.

The document also notes that no amount of ionizing radiation exposure is absolutely safe, yet exposure may go unnoticed because of the lack of physical sensation and the delay in onset of tissue-damaging effects.

It also notes the potential temptation to increase the use of ionizing radiation for applications without veterinary indications, such as radiographic examinations of horses for sale. And it suggests that advances in human medicine, such as development of novel radionuclide therapies, raise the possibility such advances will be used in animals and veterinary practitioners will need to address new radiation protection issues.