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When a Natural Disaster Strikes……..

Posted By Sara Ramey, Wednesday, March 05, 2014
Updated: Wednesday, March 05, 2014
Untitled Document
Oklahomans live in “twister alley”, so those of us who live and work here are all too familiar with meteorologic terms like hook echoes, EF ratings, and tornado outbreaks. It’s expected that epidemiologists will be working diligently during an infectious disease outbreak, but public health staff, including epidemiologists also play an important role after a tornado outbreak.

During May 19 -31, 2013, central Oklahoma experienced three separate days of severe spring storms that generated EF4 and EF5 tornadoes affecting residents of six counties. The Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) activated its emergency preparedness and response operations immediately following each of these events. In the immediate aftermath, public health response workers helped coordinate evacuation of a hospital that took a direct hit from a tornado and coordinated access to temporary water supplies for area hospitals and dialysis units affected by a major water station shut down. Recognizing that many persons will sustain puncture wounds from nails and other sharp debris during the clean-up and recovery phase, the OSDH mobilized static vaccination clinics and numerous “strike teams” to go into the hardest hit areas to provide over 7,400 tetanus immunizations to residents and volunteer workers in need of a booster vaccination. The CDC and Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommend that persons over 18 years of age get a tetanus-containing vaccination every 10 years with one of these being a tetanus-diptheria-acellular pertussis (Tdap) vaccination to boost their immunity to pertussis (whooping cough), which is a resurging problem in the United States. The OSDH strike teams administered Tdap vaccine to provide this dual protection.
Epidemiologists from the OSDH Injury Prevention Service conducted an intensive review of medical records of all persons treated for injuries at 32 hospitals from May 19 to June 2, 2013 to fully assess the extent of tornado-related injuries, populations impacted, and protective actions taken. The results of this epidemiologic study were recently released at the National Tornado Summit in Norman, Oklahoma. A total of 49 deaths and 755 injuries were determined to be associated with the May 2013 tornado disaster. Somewhat surprisingly, over half of the injuries (419) occurred indirectly meaning persons were injured attempting to get into or out of a shelter (35%), fleeing the area (6%), or rescuing an animal or person (5%); 35% of the indirect injuries leading to hospital visits were sustained by persons assisting with clean-up after the tornado. Based on these findings, the OSDH will work with other partners to develop clear and consistent messages on where to shelter, when fleeing the area is the safest approach, and use of appropriate protective equipment or gear when sheltering and when cleaning up to help prevent injuries. All persons living in tornado-susceptible zones should develop readiness plans with their family before tornado season is here again.
Kristy Bradley, DVM, MPH
State Epidemiologist
Oklahoma State Department of Health

Tags:  disaster epidemiology  emergency preparedness  member spotlight 

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Michael Heumann MPH MA says...
Posted Saturday, March 08, 2014
Excellent article! Thank you for highlighting the invaluable contribution of Epidemiology to natural disaster response. This should be helpful to public health departments everywhere.
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