What Are the Infectious Diseases Seen After Natural Disasters?
Infectious disease outbreaks are increasingly acknowledged as major factors that aggravate the impact of natural disasters and prolong recovery in post-disaster settings. Natural disasters often exacerbate the risk of infectious diseases by causing substantial population displacement, limiting access to basic needs, and impairing the water, sanitation, and waste management systems. However, our limited understanding of the characteristics and risk factors surrounding post-disaster disease outbreaks continues to limit our efforts to prepare for, monitor, and respond to potential outbreaks following natural disasters. Read along to learn more about the infectious diseases that are most commonly observed in post-disaster settings, along with the significant control and prevention measures against them.
What are the most common water-borne diseases following natural disasters?
Hepatitis, leptospirosis, and diarrheal diseases such as cholera and dysentery are among the most common water-borne diseases affecting natural disaster victims. The spread of water-borne diseases has been linked to the pollution of water sources, the use of shared water containers, poor hygiene, and the consumption of contaminated food. In fact, water-borne bacterial diseases have proven to be the predominant category of infections observed in post-disaster settings compared to air-borne, vector-borne, and injury-induced infections. For example, the flood disasters in India and Thailand were reported to cause Leptospirosis epidemics in 2000. Likewise, according to Kouadio et al. (2012), the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan led to an epidemic of viral hepatitis A and E with more than 1200 cases. Following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the consequent aggravation of the sanitary and living conditions has led to the rapid spread of imported Vibrio cholerae among the immunologically naive and susceptible groups within the affected population.
What are the most common air-borne diseases following natural disasters?
Airborne diseases such as influenza, tuberculosis (TB), measles, bacterial meningitis, and other forms of acute respiratory infections (ARIs) can be prevalent among victims of natural disasters. When combined with cold weather, these infections can rapidly spread under post-disaster conditions such as overcrowding, poor ventilation, poor nutrition, and poor hygiene. Suppose the affected population has low vaccination coverage and waning immunity. In that case, at-risk groups can suffer severe disease and complications linked to respiratory tract infections, leading to significant morbidity and mortality rates. According to Kouadio et al. (2012), respiratory tract infections had been observed in around 14% of the population displaced by the 2003 Bam earthquake in Iran. Acute respiratory infections (ARIs) were also a significant cause of morbidity and mortality among tsunami victims in Indonesia following the disaster in 2004. Likewise, a measles outbreak of more than 400 cases was identified among communities with low vaccination coverage that had to reside in crowded shelters after the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan.
What is the most common vector-borne diseases following natural disasters?
Mosquito-borne diseases such as dengue fever, malaria, chikungunya, and zika virus are among the most common vector-borne diseases that affect victims of natural disasters. Flood-induced standing water sources, population displacement, overcrowded conditions, and disruptions in sanitary services have been observed to facilitate breeding sites for mosquitoes and elevate the frequency of mosquito bites following natural disasters. Especially within the endemic areas throughout tropical and subtropical regions, these post-disaster conditions have been observed to cause significant outbreaks of vector-borne diseases. The flood disasters in Brazil (2008) and Cote d’Ivoire (2010), for instance, have led to outbreaks of the dengue virus (DENV). Similarly, a malaria outbreak was reported in the Dominican Republic following the 2004 flood disaster.
What is the most common injury-induced diseases following natural disasters?
Post-disaster conditions pose a myriad of challenges for patient management. Disruption in sanitary services, poor hygiene, and lack of access to medical care in post-disaster settings often cause delays in treating injuries and lead to contaminated wounds. Under these circumstances, tetanus remains a severe public health concern for the victims of natural disasters. Although tetanus is preventable, low vaccination coverage, limited transportation, and lack of medical facilities may lead to delays in treatment and put disaster victims at high risk of severe disease. For instance, during the 2004 tsunami in Indonesia, tetanus caused significant morbidity and mortality among unvaccinated communities.
What are the major control and prevention measures against infectious diseases following natural disasters?
In order to reduce the risk of water-borne and vector-borne diseases following natural diseases, adequate water supplies should be provided for each person’s consumption, bathing, and washing. Given its efficacy against almost all water-borne pathogens, chlorine can be used to disinfect drinking water in settings that lack alternative safe water supplies. Solid waste management should also be facilitated as soon as possible to prevent fecal contamination. Finally, feeding programs may be implemented to provide adequate rations to the malnourished groups among affected populations. In areas that are endemic to vector-borne diseases, indoor residual spraying (IRS) and insecticide-treated bed nets (ITNs) can be implemented to prevent the spread of diseases such as malaria, dengue, zika virus, and chikungunya. Against diseases that have an approved and available vaccine, such as measles, hepatitis, and tetanus, immunization is the most effective strategy to prevent severe disease and death.
Finally, various methods of diagnostic testing can be implemented for the purposes of surveillance and contact tracing. As post-disaster settings often lack sufficient access to electricity, laboratory technology, highly trained personnel, and other resources required for laboratory testing methods, antigen and antibody testing can be utilized to check for various pathogens among disaster victims. Coming in a lateral flow format, rapid antigen and antibody tests such as our Influenza A/B Rapid Test Kit, Anti-Tuberculosis (TB) Rapid Test Kit, Dengue IgG/IgM/NS1 Combo Rapid Test Kit and Malaria P.F/Pan Rapid Test Kit can be easily implemented in post-disaster settings to assist efforts for point-of-care testing of large communities.
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Kouadio, I. K., Aljunid, S. M., Kamigaki, T., Hammad, K., & Oshitani, H. (2012). Infectious diseases following natural disasters: prevention and control measures. Expert Review of Anti-Infective Therapy, 10(1), 95–104. https://doi.org/10.1586/eri.11.155