The long-distance tertiary air transfer and care of tsunami victims: injury pattern and microbiological and psychological aspects

Crit Care Med. 2005 May;33(5):1136-40. doi: 10.1097/01.ccm.0000163269.42524.50.


Objective: On December 26, 2004, a giant earthquake shocked Southeast Asia, triggering deadly flood waves (tsunami) across the Indian Ocean. More than 310,000 people have been reported dead and millions left destitute. Shortly thereafter, European governments organized airborne home transfer of most severely injured tourists using MedEvac aircraft. On arrival, patients were distributed to various medical centers. One cohort of the severely injured was admitted to the Cologne-Merheim Medical Center (Germany) for further surgical and intensive care treatment. The objective of this report was to characterize typical injury patterns along with microbiological findings and psychoemotional aspects unique to the tsunami disaster.

Design: Observational study.

Setting: Adult intensive care unit of a university hospital.

Patients: Seventeen severely injured tsunami victims were screened on arrival for characteristic injury patterns. In parallel, multifocal microbiological assessment was performed to identify pathogens responsible for high-level wound contamination.

Interventions: Standard clinical management.

Measurements and main results: The predominant pattern of injury comprised multiple large-scale soft-tissue wounds (range, 2 x 3 to 60 x 60 cm) of lower extremities (88%), upper extremities (29%), and head (18%). Additional injuries included thoracic trauma with hemopneumothorax and serial rib fractures (41%) and peripheral bone fractures (47%). A major problem associated with wound management was significant contamination. Microbiological assessment identified a variety of common (Pseudomonas 54%, Enterobacteriae 36%, Aeromonas spp. 27%) but also uncommon isolates that were often multiply resistant (multiply resistant Acinetobacter and extended-spectrum beta-lactamase-positive Escherichia coli, 18% each). Upper respiratory tract specimens contained a high rate of multiply resistant Acinetobacter species but also methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, Aeromonas hydrophilia, Pseudomonas species, and Candida albicans. Apart from these findings, all patients displayed severe signs of posttraumatic stress response.

Conclusions: Individuals who survived their initial injuries and who were evacuated to Europe had traumatic injuries to head, chest, and limbs that were often contaminated with highly resistant bacteria.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Anti-Infective Agents / therapeutic use
  • Asia, Southeastern
  • Disasters*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / etiology
  • Transportation of Patients / methods*
  • Transportation of Patients / organization & administration
  • Wound Infection / drug therapy
  • Wound Infection / microbiology*
  • Wounds and Injuries / classification*
  • Wounds and Injuries / microbiology
  • Wounds and Injuries / psychology


  • Anti-Infective Agents