Health Problems of Victims Before and After Disaster

Two and a half years post-disaster, the prevalence of psychological problems among the victims of natural and man-made events who had to relocate was about double of a group of victims who were not forced to relocate and about double that of a control group of non-victims.

In a study published in the International Journal of Epidemiology, researchers C. Joris Yzermans, G. È. A. Donker, Jan J Kerssens, Anja J. E. Dirkzwager, Rik J. H. Soeteman and Petra M. H. ten Veen found that victims with pre-disaster psychological problems were at greater risk for post-disaster psychological problems. In addition, relocated victims showed an excess of medically unexplained physical symptoms (MUPS) especially in a period of increased media attention.

The researchers studied the victims of the explosion of a firework depot at Enschede, The Netherlands, on May 13, 2000, in an effort to quantify the health problems and to assess the possible risk factors for developing health problems in persons affected by disaster. The explosion caused considerable damage to buildings in the local neighborhood, killed 22 people and injured over 1,000 people. Some 1,000 residents had to be evacuated. In all, the researchers examined the health records of 9,329 people who survived the explosion.

The researchers noted that many known risk factors for post-disaster morbidity applied in this community including evacuation, low socioeconomic status (SES), low level of education, and immigrant status. The extent and impact of the disaster caused the Dutch government to offer support to the regional authorities. An information and advice center (IAC) capable of dealing with all related problems was established; a registration system of victims was created; long-term monitoring of health problems was initiated; and an integrated approach for dealing with the psychosocial consequences of the disaster was facilitated.

Concluded researchers, "Victims may struggle with increased physical and psychological problems several years after a disaster."

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