Putin nuclear threat causes central Europeans to frantically search for iodine

The fallout from Russian President Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine and the announcement that he's put Russia's nuclear deterrent system on "high alert" continues to reverberate across central Europe.

The most recent indication: people living in former Soviet-era states have been rushing to pharmacies buy iodine, on the belief it will protect them from radiation poisoning.

In addition to withdrawing cash from banks and topping off their gas tanks, scores of people trying to stock up on iodine in case Putin goes nuclear.

"In the past six days Bulgarian pharmacies have sold as much [iodine] as they sell for a year," said Nikolay Kostov, chair of the Pharmacies Union, tells Reuters. "Some pharmacies are already out of stock. We have ordered new quantities but I am afraid they will not last very long."

Miroslava Stenkova, a representative of Dr. Max pharmacies in the Czech Republic, where some stores had run out of iodine after demand soared, said, "It's been a bit mad."

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Iodine - taken as pills or syrup - is considered a way of protecting the body against conditions such as thyroid cancer in case of radioactive exposure. Japanese authorities in 2011 recommended that people around the site of the Fukushima nuclear power plant take iodine.

But some officials in the region have cautioned that iodine would not help in case of nuclear war. Dana Drabova, head of the Czech State office for Nuclear Safety, wrote on Twitter: "You ask a lot about iodine tablets... as radiation protection when (God forbid) nuclear weapons are used, they are basically useless."

Nonetheless, in Poland the number of pharmacies selling iodine more than doubled, according to gdziepolek.pl, a Polish website that helps patients find the nearest pharmacy with a drug they are seeking.

"Internal data on our website shows that interest in iodine increased around 50 times since last Thursday," said Bartlomiej Owczarek, the website's co-founder.