Negligible risk for epidemics after geophysical disasters

Emerg Infect Dis. 2006 Apr;12(4):543-8. doi: 10.3201/eid1204.051569.


After geophysical disasters (i.e., earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis), media reports almost always stress the risk for epidemics; whether this risk is genuine has been debated. We analyzed the medical literature and data from humanitarian agencies and the World Health Organization from 1985 to 2004. Of >600 geophysical disasters recorded, we found only 3 reported outbreaks related to these disasters: 1 of measles after the eruption of Pinatubo in Philippines, 1 of coccidioidomycosis after an earthquake in California, and 1 of Plasmodium vivax malaria in Costa Rica related to an earthquake and heavy rainfall. Even though the humanitarian response may play a role in preventing epidemics, our results lend support to the epidemiologic evidence that short-term risk for epidemics after a geophysical disaster is very low.

MeSH terms

  • Disasters*
  • Disease Outbreaks / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk Factors