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Epidemics After Natural Disasters


Epidemics of infectious disease are rare following natural disasters, especially in developed countries. Observations from previous natural disasters suggest that skin, diarrheal, and respiratory infections are the most common infectious diseases in survivors. The etiologies of disease outbreaks are usually predictable, reflecting infectious diseases endemic in the affected area before the disaster. Injury and soft tissue infections are expected during the first few days after a disaster. In contrast, airborne, water-borne, and food-borne diseases are anticipated for up to one month after a disaster. A feared consequence of natural disasters is the potential exposure to dead bodies, both human and animal. No evidence exists that exposure to bodies after a disaster leads to infectious disease epidemics. To be discussed are specific epidemics that have followed earthquakes, floods, tornadoes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, landslides, and drought. Preventative public health and safety measures aimed at attenuation of such epidemics will be reviewed.