Super Typhoon Haiyan and Health Issues: Effects of Natural Disasters

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Typhoon Haiyan is seen from space. Image by NASA/Karen Nyberg

Typhoon Haiyan devastated the Philippines, and the damage isn’t over yet – the health effects of a a destructive storm are far-reaching. Image by NASA/Karen Nyberg

Super typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines recently, causing massive devastation and deaths. The typhoon had winds at more than 200 mph and storm surges of 13 feet, resulting in many deaths and thousands without homes. Those who survived the monster storm will also have to survive the after-effects of the storm.

The storm is gone, but it left behind sanitation issues; unclean water, decaying bodies, and other health issues that may arise over the coming days.

Philippines Issues After Haiyan: Lack of Supplies

More than two million people need food aid, according to the Philippine government, but NBC News says that mobs attack trucks that arrive with clean water, tents, and food. Starving people are breaking into malls and stores to take supplies. For many, food supplies and clean water have already run out. Some areas are not accessible via trucks and agencies are airlifting water, food, shelter, and medicine to the hardest-hit areas.

Super Typhoon Damaged Hospitals

Haiyan also damaged hospitals, which are closed, but people show up for help anyway. At the Divine World Hospital, doctors have stayed to help patients, but the only supplies they have on hand are bandages and antiseptic, so they can only treat minor cuts and abrasions. Hospitals have sent patients home because there is no medicine left as the pharmacies were destroyed. There is no electricity or clean water available either, but doctors and nurses are doing their best with what they have.

The Philippines received the impact of the largest storm to ever make landfall. Image by Thuresson

The Philippines received the impact of the largest storm to ever make landfall. Image by Thuresson

Public Health Crisis in the Philippines

Disease outbreaks and infections are all concerns for those in the Philippines. Glenn Morris, the director of Emerging Pathogens Institutes at the University of Florida, tells Popular Science that the most imminent dangers are not infectious diseases, but injuries such as cuts, abrasions, and broken bones that can easily get infected. According to Popular Science there are an estimated 95,270 pregnant women in the typhoon zone that need care as well as those with chronic diseases. Diarrheal diseases such as dysentery and vector-borne diseases are of the next concern.

Shigella, E. coli, Salmonella, and the norovirus all present risks due to the broken water purification system in the Philippines, as well as human waste from people who are sick that can mixed in the water supply. According to CNBC News, the city of Tacloban is reporting dysentery; about 200,000 people are without electricity and running out of food and clean water in that area. Dysentery is an infection of the intestines that causes watery, bloody, diarrhea, fever, abdominal pain, and stomach cramps. Dysentery can be life-threatening if the victim cannot replace lost fluids fast enough.

Cholera is also a concern that can spread fast and can be deadly. People can get cholera from water or food contaminated with the bacteria; cholera causes watery diarrhea, vomiting, and leg cramps. A rapid loss of fluids can result in the person to go into shock and death can occur within hours if rehydration is not available. However, the Philippines have a good public health infrastructure, Morris doesn’t consider cholera to be a significant risk.

Due to the standing water after the storm, vector borne diseases such as malaria and dengue fever, both of which can be carried by mosquitoes may be a significant problem over time. Those people who are sleeping outside due to a loss of homes from Haiyan are at risk for getting bitten by an infected mosquito. Malaria results in fever, chills, and flu-like symptoms. Those who go untreated can develop complications and even die.

Super Typhoon Haiyan: Health Disaster

Cargo planes from the UK and other countries have been flying in much needed supplies. Image by DFID - UK Department for International Development

Cargo planes from the UK and other countries have been flying in much needed supplies. Image by DFID – UK Department for International Development

Other nations are  providing the Philippines with doctors, clean water, food, shelter, medicine, sanitation supplies, and other supplies. The World Health Organization is sending more than two dozen  health emergency relief experts and emergency health kits as part of the initial response. As the days progress, we will see what parts of the public health infrastructure will continue to work and be able to fight off infectious diseases.

After major disasters such as this, it’s important to pay attention to the areas of an infrastructure that are successful or unsuccessful. Hopefully we can learn from the results of Haiyan, and be better prepared for the future.

Resources:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Cholera. (2013). Accessed November 13, 2013.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Malaria. (2012). Accessed November 13, 2103.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Dengue Fever. (2012). Accessed November 13, 2013.

Snyderman, N., Smith, H. and Brinley Bruton, F. Health crisis erupts in Philippines following deadly typhoon Haiyan. (2013). CNBC News. Accessed November 13, 2013.

Starr, B. General asks for U.S. warships in typhoon relief. (2013). CNN News. Accessed November 13, 2013.

Medical News Today. What is dysentery? What Causes Dysentery? (2013). Accessed November 13, 2013.

Snyderman, S.  ‘Out of resources’: Doctors haunted by typhoon victims they couldn’t help. (2013). NBC News. Accessed November 13, 2013.

Borel, B. Public Health Concerns In Typhoon Haiyan Aftermath. (2013). Popular Science. Accessed November 13, 2013.

World Health Organization. Dysentery. Accessed November 13, 2013.

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