Deterioration in regional health status after the acute phase of a great disaster: respiratory physicians' experiences of the Great East Japan Earthquake

Respir Investig. 2013 Jun;51(2):50-5. doi: 10.1016/j.resinv.2012.12.003. Epub 2013 Mar 13.


Background: The Great East Japan Earthquake occurred on March 11, 2011. The source of the ensuing devastation was not the tremors, but the subsequent tsunami. Responding emergency medical teams could not provide sufficient assistance, which led to many people dying before the rescue teams arrived. Thus, the main objective of healthcare professionals became to prevent deterioration in people's health statuses in the disaster area.

Methods: One month after the earthquake, the Health-Promoting Association of Respiratory Medicine of Tohoku conducted a survey regarding changing disease prevalence among inpatients in respiratory medicine departments of regional core hospitals in Miyagi Prefecture, the area that suffered the most damage.

Results: The number of patients from March 11 to April 10, 2011 was 2.7 times greater than that during the same period in 2010 (1223 vs. 443, respectively). The prevalence of asthma, exacerbations of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and community-acquired pneumonia were also 2-3 times greater in 2011 than in 2010 (98 vs. 32, 117 vs. 46, and 443 vs. 202, respectively) among all ages. Half of the community-acquired pneumonia cases originated in evacuation shelters. The number of inpatients with other diseases, including those who drowned, was relatively small, and mortality did not increase significantly at these hospitals.

Conclusions: The findings may result from poor shelter or dwelling conditions, as well as overpopulation and lack of basic resources. Adequate shelters, supply systems, and protection from infection, including vaccinations, are needed to prevent deteriorations in health status after the acute phase of a natural disaster.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Child
  • Earthquakes*
  • Health Status*
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Japan / epidemiology
  • Middle Aged
  • Pulmonary Medicine
  • Respiratory Tract Diseases / epidemiology
  • Tsunamis