Disease Aftershocks—The Health Effects of Natural Disasters

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  • This article was downloaded by: [Tufts University]On: 16 October 2014, At: 12:19Publisher: Taylor & FrancisInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registeredoffice: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

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    Disease AftershocksThe Health Effectsof Natural DisastersStephen C. Guptill aa S21 National Center , U.S. Geological Survey , Reston, Virginia,20192Published online: 18 Aug 2010.

    To cite this article: Stephen C. Guptill (2001) Disease AftershocksThe Health Effects of NaturalDisasters, International Geology Review, 43:5, 419-423, DOI: 10.1080/00206810109465023

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  • International Geology Review, Vol. 43, 2001 , p. 419-423 Copyright 2001 by V. H. Winston & Son, Inc. All rights reserved.

    Disease AftershocksThe Health Effects of Natural Disasters STEPHEN C. GUPTILL

    S21 National Center, U.S. Geological Survey, Reston, Virginia 20192

    Abstract

    While the initial activity of a natural disaster event may directly injure or kill a number of peo-ple, it is possible that a significant number of individuals will be affected by disease outbreaks that occur after the first effects of the disaster have passed. Coupling the epidemiologist's knowledge of disease outbreaks with geographic information systems and remote sensing technology could help natural disaster relief workers to prevent additional victims from disease aftershocks.

    Introduct ion

    FOLLOWING A NATURAL disaster, such as an earth-quake, the media often report the number of injuries and fatalities. This reporting may go on for a week or two, then fade from the public stage. Less commonly noted, either in the popular press or official govern-ment reports, is the possibility that more individuals are being affected by disease outbreaks that occur after the initial effects of the disaster have passed. There are a number of causes of these disease after-shocks. It is possible that many of these could be mitigated by careful planning with the assistance of geographic information system (GIS) and remote sensing (RS) technology.

    Natural Disasters

    While natural disasters (such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, hurricanes, floods, and land-slides) are common around the planet, the occur-rence of major events that take a large toll in terms of loss of human life or property are relatively rare. The most deadly events are ones that cover a large geographic area, in particular tropical storms and floods. Table 1 presents a listing of events that have killed or affected the largest number of people. The frequency of such disasters can be seen by studying yearly statistics of selected disaster events. As examples, Tables 2 and 3 show the number of events, along with the number of people killed and affected, for the years of 1998 and 1991.

    Contributing Causes o f I l lness and Death:

    The cause of illness and death follows a rela-tively simple timeline after the initial event. Most immedia te dea ths and injuries are caused by

    trauma, asphyxia, or exposure. Soon after the event, contaminated food and/or water can cause such ill-nesses as cholera, typhoid fever, dysentery, and lep-tospi ros is . A week or two later , vec tor -borne diseases can infect an exposed population with malaria, Rift Valley fever, or assorted arboviral encephalitides. Concentrated settlements of evacu-ees can create conditions whereby viral hemor-rhagic fevers, meningi t i s , meas les , and acute respiratory infections are easily transmitted from one person to another. The various Internet-based disease and disaster reporting systems such as DisasterRelief.org (Turk, 1998), and ProMED-mail (ProMED-mail, 2001) contain numerous references to such post-disaster disease outbreaks. A few of these outbreaks have been the subject of more detailed epidemiological studies (Weekly Epidemio-logical Record, 2000).

    Many of these disease outbreaks, such as cholera or typhoid, are caused by contaminated water sup-plies. The lack of potable water and adequate sani-tary facilities pose the most immediate threat to human health. Relief workers must first locate all of the disaster victims and then ensure that these needs are satisfied. The problem is compounded if a large number of people have relocated, either delib-erately or through necessity, to areas without a via-ble supply of potable water. In addi t ion , the relocation of displaced persons into refugee camps often creates conditions that make the population highly susceptible to an outbreak of infectious dis-ease. If the camps are located in areas where diseases such as dengue, malaria, typhus, lep-tospirosis. Rift Valley fever, hantavirus, or viral hemorrhagic fevers are endemic, large numbers of people may become ill. People fearful of building collapse because of an earthquake aftershock may sleep outdoors, without shelter, leaving themselves

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  • 4 2 0 STEPHEN C. GUPTILL

    TABLE 1. Effects of Natural Disasters

    Disaster

    Epidemic

    Famine

    Flood

    Epidemic

    Drought

    Drought

    Flood

    Flood

    Drought

    Flood

    Year

    1917

    1932

    July 1931

    July 1914

    1928

    1987

    August 1998

    May 1991

    November 1979

    July 1993

    Country

    Worldwide

    Soviet Union

    People's Republic of China

    Serbia/Poland/Soviet Union

    People's Republic of China

    India

    People's Republic of China

    People's Republic of China

    India

    India

    Killed

    20.000,000

    5,000,000

    3,700,000

    3.000,000

    3,000,000

    300

    3.656

    1.729

    -827

    Affected

    --

    28,500,000

    --

    300,000,000

    238,973,000

    210,232,227

    190,000,000

    128.000,000

    Source: EM-DAT: the OFDA/CRED International Disaster Database, Universit Catholique de Louvain. Brussels. Belgium.

    TABLE 2. Selected Natural Disaster Statistics, 1998

    Disaster type

    Landslides

    Earthquakes

    Floods

    Tropical storms

    Volcanoes

    No. of events

    23

    17

    92

    72

    4

    No. of people killed

    1,044

    7,423

    13,554

    14,866

    0

    No. of people affected

    230,110

    1,827.021

    306,917.299

    29,394,098

    7.808

    Source: EM-DAT: the OFDA/CRED International Disaster Database, Universit Catholique de Louvain. Brussels. Belgium.

    susceptible to mosquito bites and infection. These and other public health consequences of disasters have been examined in detail in Noji (1997).

    R o l e o f R e m o t e S e n s i n g and Geographic In format ion S y s t e m s

    Remotely sensed imagery, either from aircraft or spacecraft, can enable a rapid assessment of an area that has been impacted by a natural disaster. Com-bining these data with other geospatial data in a geo-graphic information system can provide disaster relief specialists with the information they need to find sites that minimize the risks of exposing the population to disease. In general, disaster response officials can use remote sensing systems and geo-

    graphic information systems technology for the fol-lowing types of tasks: (1) disaster assessment; (2) emergency response; (3) distribution of relief ser-vices; (4) settlement location, and (5) infrastructure reconstruction.

    Immediately following a disaster, location of and access tothe affected population may be lim-ited or impossible. High-resolution remote sensing imagery taken soon after the event can enable offi-cials to assess the extent of the damage and to direct response personnel and relief supplies to the most needy areas. If survivors are geographically dis-placed from their homes, the sites for relief/refug