Entries in Earthquake (11)


Shunned Japanese Fukushima Plant Workers Face Emotional Toll

STR/AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- The March 2011 earthquake that triggered plant explosions and a meltdown in a Japanese nuclear power plant caused a chain reaction in the psyche of the workers at the plant, making them more vulnerable to emotional stress from perceived discrimination shortly after the disaster, according to a new study.

Researchers behind the study, published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, administered a questionnaire to two sets of power plant workers in May and June of 2011. One group was from the Daiichi plant, where the major meltdown occurred, while the other was from the Daini nuclear power plant, which exhibited some damage but remained mostly intact.

Since the power plants had been criticized for their response efforts in the wake of the disaster, the researchers included questions designed to assess whether subjects had been the targets of discrimination or slurs from others.

The study found that while there was no difference between the number of acts of discrimination experienced by the two groups, the barbs seemed to be especially hurtful to workers who had staffed the doomed Daiichi plant.  Ten percent more workers from this plant reported that they experienced psychological as well as post-traumatic stress response, compared with stress then reported by the Daini workers.

Reported psychological stress symptoms included feelings of nervousness, hopelessness, restlessness and worthlessness, as well as depression.

“This is the first study to our knowledge to explore discrimination as a factor in post-disaster mental health,” lead study author Dr. Jun Shigemura of the department of psychiatry at National Defense Medical College in Saitama, Japan, wrote in the study.

Psychiatrists agree that the perception of discrimination after the meltdown clearly played an important role in the development of post-traumatic stress response in the workers.

“This study leads us to the conclusion that discrimination of survivors of life-threatening situations such as the meltdowns in Japan is very important in PTSD,” says Dr. Gene Beresin, director of child and adolescent psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital and McLean Hospital.

Other doctors acknowledge that the workers were affected not only by the disaster, but by their collective experiences that followed.

“It would not be surprising that both experience at the disaster, as well as discrimination, will have a psychological impact on the disaster workers,” says Dr. Bennett L. Leventhal, deputy director of the Nathan Kline Institute for Psychiatric Research in Orangeburg, N.Y.  “However, it is also possible that a number of other factors will play equally, if not more, critical roles in affecting the response to the disaster experience.”

Indeed, discrimination is just one kind of continuing stress being experienced by the workers.

“On top of being exposed to significant trauma by experiencing a huge earthquake, witnessing an explosion, and losing colleagues and family, the residents in Fukushima are currently living under the fear of the unknown effects of radiation in the air and grounds that their children play in,” says Dr. Mai Uchida, a fellow in child and adolescent psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


How Did Baby Survive 47 Hours Under Turkey Quake Rubble?

ADEM ALTAN/AFP/Getty Images(ERCIS, Turkey) -- Two-week-old baby Azra Karaduman defied the odds by surviving in conditions that most would deem impossible.

On Tuesday, rescue workers in Turkey pulled her from the rubble of a building in the eastern city of Ercis, 47 hours after the 7.2 quake hit the country.  Television footage showed a worker pulling the naked baby from the wreckage before handing her off to a medic.

As of Wednesday morning, officials said the disaster had killed 461 people and injured over 1,300, but Azra, along with her 25-year-old mother and her grandmother, were saved.  Their condition remains uncertain, and it is also uncertain whether Azra's father, who was also believed to be in the rubble, survived.

Born only 14 days before the earthquake, how did Azra survive such a harrowing catastrophe?  Are babies tougher than we think?

"We all can tolerate a lack of food and water for 48 hours," said Dr. Ian Holzman, chief of the division of newborn medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York. "The concern in a baby is that they can't maintain their blood sugar if they haven't been well-nourished previously, so I would assume this was a healthy, chubby baby."

Full-term babies hold additional fat stores in their bodies, said Dr. William Walsh, a professor of pediatrics and head of neonatology at Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn.

"Babies are born with a little extra fluid and energy stores that they can mobilize because the breast milk from their mothers does not usually start immediately," said Walsh. "So, the ability to fast for a day or two is built-in."

In general, survival from collapses often depends heavily on the number of pockets that exist in the wreckage after the disaster.  Children may have greater luck in fitting into smaller pockets throughout the rubble.  Babies also have softer bones, which may be more likely to bend than break in certain crushes, said Walsh.

Dr. David Markenson, chairman of the American Red Cross Advisory Council on First Aid and Safety, said the factor that likely saved Azra was the temperature outside.

"Extreme heat or cold -- that is what is more limiting in survival of a baby," said Markenson.  "Forty-seven hours is pushing the limits without water and food.  She probably could not have exceeded that time too much more, but the weather conditions were the most helpful to this child.  Children are more susceptible to extreme weather conditions than adults."

According to the weather site, Tuesday's temperature in Ercis reached a high of 55 degrees Fahrenheit.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


East Coast Earthquake 'Cures' Veteran's Deafness

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- For Robert Valderzak of Washington, D.C., Tuesday's earthquake was a miracle.

Ever since he fell and fractured his skull on Father's Day, 75-year-old Valderzak had suffered severe hearing loss.  But after the 5.8 quake, he could hear everything.

"It was God's blessing," Valderzak told ABC News, his voice shaking with emotion.  "It was a miracle for me."

Valderzak was visiting with his daughter and three sons when the quake rattled D.C.'s Veterans Affairs Hospital, where he is battling cancer.

"It shook me terrible -- right out of the bed," said Valderzak.  "But after that it stopped.  And my son talked to me, and I could hear his voice."

Tests confirmed Valderzak's significant hearing improvement.  But his doctors think they have a medical explanation for the "miracle."

"He had conductive hearing loss, caused by fluid in his middle ear, as well as loss due to nerve damage," said Dr. Ross Fletcher, chief of staff at the VA Hospital.  "A combination of a drug he was taking and the earthquake event itself likely led to him losing the fluid and gaining back his hearing."

Dr. Jennifer Smullen of the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary said the shaking itself might not have been enough to clear the fluid from Valderzak's inner ear.

"But if somebody was startled, and yawned or yelled, sometimes that's enough to clear some fluid out from the ear drum," she said.

In any case, recovering the ability to hear after going months without is a gift.

"People are usually very grateful, very happy, very surprised," said Smullen.  "They'll walk around looking at things that they'd forgotten made noise.  It's very gratifying."

Valderzak had adjusted to his hearing loss with the help of a special microphone and a crash lesson in lip reading.  But the situation was far from ideal.

"The devices helped, but by the time I got them all hooked up, everyone had left and I was talking to myself," he said, adding that lip reading meant he could only talk to one person at a time.

But now he can talk to all four of his kids again.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


How to Stay Safe during a Major Earthquake

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- You're sitting at your desk, or in your kitchen, and all of a sudden the building begins to wobble.

To some people, the 5.8-magnitude earthquake in central Virginia Tuesday felt like a gentle rolling.  To others, closer to the epicenter, it was more violent.

And then it was over.  People from New England to the Carolinas to Canada were left asking, "What was that?"

If you live in California or southern Alaska, you probably know what to do in an earthquake.  But Easterners don't often feel tremors, and may not know how to react in a major emergency.  So how can you stay safe?

Here are some pointers from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) if you are caught in a major earthquake:

If You're Indoors:

-- Drop to the ground and take cover.  Get under a sturdy table or other piece of furniture, and hold on   until the shaking stops.
-- If you can't get under something, cover your face and head with your hands and crouch in an inside corner.
-- If you're in bed, stay there.  Cover your head with a pillow.
-- Doorways are not great places for shelter, even though emergency managers used to recommend them.
-- Stay put until the shaking stops.  FEMA says most injuries occur when people try to move to another place.
-- Don't use elevators if you've been in a major quake.  And don't be surprised if power goes out or sprinklers are activated.

If You're Outdoors:

-- Stay there.  Stay away from buildings, power lines, streetlights and other things that could fall on you.
-- People are rarely injured by the actual shaking of an earthquake.  Instead, falling debris is the greater danger.
-- If you're in a car, try to ease to a stop, preferably in an open area away from buildings, trees or overpasses.

Most people who felt Tuesday's earthquake did not need such advice as the quake was not violent enough.  But brick and masonry buildings did sustain damage -- more than one would see in California with its stricter building codes. And the quake was a reminder than even in the East, even between fault lines, there can be risks.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Radiation in US Milk: What It Means

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Milk from America's West Coast containing trace amounts of radioactive iodine is safe to drink, health officials say.

The Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration reported higher-than-normal levels of radioactive Iodine-131 in milk samples from California and Washington Wednesday. But the levels are 5,000 times below the danger threshold.

"These types of findings are to be expected in the coming days and are far below levels of public health concern, including for infants and children," the EPA said on its website.

A March 25 radiation reading from milk in Spokane, Wash. -- 0.8 picocuries per liter -- is more than 4,000 times less than that of a normal banana, which naturally contains radioactive potassium.

Agencies will continue to measure radiation levels in milk and other food products in the U.S. during Japan's ongoing nuclear crisis.

"Radioactivity levels in milk products are monitored, so it is unlikely that any significantly contaminated milk would make it to the marketplace," said Dr. Timothy Jorgensen, associate professor in the department of radiation medicine at Georgetown University Medical Center. "The U.S. population need not be concerned about this level of Iodine-131."

On March 28 the EPA reported very low levels of radiation in the air over Alaska, Alabama, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Nevada, Saipan, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands and Washington state.

On March 22, the FDA banned milk and produce imported from Japan's Fukushima, Ibaraki, Tochigi and Gunma prefectures.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Japan's Medical Situation Grave in Some Places, But Improving

STR/AFP/Getty Images(TOKYO) -- The massive destruction left in the aftermath of the tsunami and earthquake that rocked Japan nearly two weeks ago also left disaster-hit areas with a major medical crisis.

More than 300,000 people have been evacuated and are temporarily living in shelters, and parts of the disaster area have limited or no electricity, food, heat or clean water.

ABC News reached out to physicians near the front lines of the relief efforts and asked them for their perspectives on the health situation.  They said that while things are starting to improve, there's still a long way to go to recover fully.

Dr. Takashi Shiga, an emergency medicine physician at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, has just returned from Miyagi Prefecture, where much of the severe damage was done.  During the week he was there, Dr. Shiga spent time in Sendai, the hardest hit city, and Kesennuma, a city to the north.

He tended to patients at shelters as well as at the municipal hospital in Kesennuma.  Most of those who were initially injured critically have since died, casualties of the tsunami.  Hundreds of disaster medical assistance teams evacuated many survivors.

"The hospital was intact, but the infrastructure was damaged.  There was no Internet, no electricity, no water and no cell service," Shiga said.

Patients who were severely ill or injured were taken to other cities within 72 hours.  The remaining patients, Shiga said, suffered from stress-related insomnia or worsening of chronic conditions, high blood pressure, colds and constipation.  Medical supplies and medication have also been scarce.

Shiga also said the municipal hospital didn't get overcrowded because the clinic was shut down and only patients in dire need of treatment were admitted.  Other hospitals throughout the disaster haven't been as fortunate.  They are still overcrowded and dealing with shortages of medication and supplies, preventing critically ill and chronically ill people from getting the help they need.

"Hospitals in the disaster area are still crowded now," said Dr. Fuminobu Yoshimachi, director of the department of cardiology at Aomori Prefectural Central Hospital in Aomori City.  Yoshimachi has numerous colleagues in the areas most affected by the earthquake and tsunami.

He said he and other physicians have been trying to make their way to the disaster areas, but are in limbo because of bureaucratic challenges.  Local governments, the Red Cross and medical groups who have gathered to help have been unable to organize relief efforts.

"There is no chain of command," Yoshimachi said.  "If we want to go to help some area, it is rather difficult to determine when and where we should go, how we can go, what kind of drugs and support we should bring."

But Shiga says the response by the government and other agencies has been great.

"I think they did quite a good job handling it," he said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Japan Earthquake: Psychological Fallout Could Last Years

JIJI PRESS/AFP/Getty Images(TOKYO) -- The trauma doesn't seem to end for Japan: first earthquake, then Tsunami and now comes this. It's a country with more than 4,000 known dead, while nearly 10,000 more missing must cope with the threat of nuclear contamination.

Although officials are still struggling to meet the immediate, physical needs of survivors, the psychological wounds of this disaster, for those directly affected and the nation as a whole, will leave their imprint for years, even decades, to come, psychologists say.

Beyond the practical aspects of rebuilding, how does a devastated nation restore the minds and hearts of its people and stave off long-term psychological distress? Even as relief efforts fight to get food, baby formula, water, and oil to the affected region, post-trauma mental health care has already begun.

Psychiatric teams have gone into the area, says Dr. Makiko Okuyama, head of the Department of Psychosocial Medicine at the National Center for Child Health Development, who is part of the relief effort now in Japan.

After Japan's Kobe earthquake in 1995, "it was chaos," he says, but that disaster birthed Japan's first consolidated system for psychological aid following a crisis. "But this disaster is much more than we expected; too wide [of an] area and too much damage," he says.

Meeting physical needs is the first priority for psychological aid, he adds.

Back in Tokyo, the Japanese Society of Neurology and Psychiatry, the equivalent to the American Psychological Association, is meeting Friday night to discuss how it will handle the situation, says Dr. Fumitaka Noda, co-chair of the World Psychiatric Association and chair of the Japanese Society of Transcultural Psychiatry at Taisho University in Japan.

It will take a long and concerted effort on the part of mental health care workers in Japan, and most likely those abroad as well, to meet the psychological needs of the survivors in the coming weeks, months and years, says Reiko True, a clinical psychologist who worked with Kobe earthquake victims and was in Tokyo's Narita airport at the time of last week's earthquake.

"Since Kobe [Japan] has done a lot of preparation for dealing with "not only the physical and structural needs of a community, but to care for the psychological wounds of the people, but I think the needs now are overwhelming," she says. "Eventually, they will want and welcome help from the outside. What I'm hearing is that they are not prepared to accept mental health help from the outside yet, though." 

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Disaster Preparedness: How Ready Is the US?

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- Unlike troubled countries like Haiti, many experts agree that so far Japan, a developed country, has fared well overall in disaster preparedness, which is measured by the country's immediate response following an earthquake and tsunami.

But many may wonder whether Americans are as prepared to handle such natural disasters.

The United States has experienced an average of 50 natural disasters each year in the last decade, more than 560 total, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).  The agency documented eight natural disasters this year already, mostly severe winter storms and flooding.

While there are national and local emergency plans in place, making the big picture response appear satisfactory, experts say it's likely that most Americans themselves are not prepared to handle emergencies.

Indeed, many state and federal government organizations have their own set of challenges.  A survey released Monday by the American Medical Association suggested many state health departments have no plan in place to assess human radiation exposure should a radiation emergency similar Japan's nuclear plant explosion should take place.

But experts say what could be as concerning is that family preparedness fares far worse than any governmental infrastructure.

"It's really in the personal preparedness phase rather than the response phase that we need to be paying more attention [to]," said Jonathon Links, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Public Health Preparedness in Baltimore.

In fact, according to Links, most cities and towns across the United States have experienced some type of natural disaster.  Yet, it is estimated that only about 10 percent of households are prepared to handle emergencies.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


In Japan, Fukushima Evacuees Screened for Radiation

YOMIURI SHIMBUN/AFP/Getty Images(TOKYO) -- Evacuees from the 13-mile-radius danger zone surrounding Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant are being screened for radiation.

Japanese health authorities confirmed that at least 22 people have been exposed to radiation following the hydrogen explosion at the plant's No. 1 reactor building early Saturday morning. Up to 160 more are suspected to have been exposed while waiting for evacuation in the nearby town of Futabe, according to Ryo Miyake, a spokesman from Japan's nuclear agency.

A cooling system malfunction at the plant's No. 3 reactor could lead to a similar explosion.

Workers wearing masks and protective clothing are using handheld scanners to measure radiation after more than 300,000 were urged to flee the 450-square mile zone.

Officials have set up evacuation centers bordering the zone and are working to establish decontamination facilities.

Depending on the level of contamination, evacuees are being advised to dispose of clothing and shower. Potassium iodide is also being distributed to guard against thyroid cancer. Iodine is taken up by the thyroid -- a butterfly-shaped gland in the neck that produces hormones that regulate metabolism. Radioactive iodine in environment after a nuclear accident can cause thyroid cancer. But potassium iodide can block the radioactive iodine from entering the gland.

"One of the things after Chernobyl, you saw massive numbers of cancers in children. The radioactive iodine got into the grass, the cows ate the grass, it got into the milk," said ABC News chief medical editor Dr. Richard Besser. "If there is a big fallout, they'll tell people not to drink milk or eat food from that area."

Children and pregnant women are most at risk, Besser said.

Low-dose radiation has also been linked to cardiovascular disease.

Japanese authorities deny that the exposures reported so far pose any health risks.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


What Are the Health Risks of Radiation?

DigitalGlobe via Getty Images(TOKYO) -- The steam plume drifting from the Fukushima, Japan, nuclear plant that exploded after Friday's 8.9-magnitude earthquake and the looming possibility of a meltdown there have U.S. scientists warning of possible serious health risks.

Although the steel container protecting the plant's No.1 reactor was not damaged in the explosion, radiation levels near the plant rose to roughly twice that which constitute an emergency situation, according to Japanese officials, prompting a doubling of the evacuation radius to 20 kilometers.

Japan's nuclear safety agency has since reported a malfunctioning cooling system at a second reactor in the same plant.

"Members of the public are not in imminent danger at a distance of 20 kilometers, so long as they are not downwind," said John Williams, professor of nuclear and energy engineering at the University of Arizona.

But while the breadth of the evacuation zone may limit the risk of acute radiation sickness, the potential for chronic conditions, such as cancer and cardiovascular disease remains.

Edwin Lyman, a senior scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists, said wind over the Fukushima prefecture could boost radiation to cancer-causing levels up to 100 miles away. Tokyo, home to nearly 13 million people in 2009, is roughly 200 miles away.

Low dose radiation exposure is also linked to a heightened risk of cardiovascular disease, according to the National Research Council. 

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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