• Vol. 34 No. 10, 625–631
  • 15 November 2005

Tsunami in South Asia: What is the Risk of Post-disaster Infectious Disease Outbreaks?

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ABSTRACT

The World Health Organization has warned that in the aftermath of the recent tsunami, infectious disease outbreaks will add to the heavy toll of the disaster itself, possibly even doubling the number of casualties. However, many experts believe the risks of infectious disease outbreaks following natural disasters have been overemphasised and have led to unnecessary and potentially harmful public health activities. This paper discusses the risk and prevention strategies of potential infectious diseases in the aftermath of the tsunami based on a literature review of previous similar disasters and current evidence. Infectious disease outbreaks, if any, will most likely be the consequence of post-tsunami camp situations involving large displaced populations rather than the tidal wave itself. Lessons have been learned from previous large-scale humanitarian crises about the provision of aid and the mitigation of epidemics. This paper examines the risk and preventive strategies of vector- and food/water-borne diseases, measles, acute respiratory infections and meningitis. Alert thresholds at which to trigger outbreak investigations, and standardised guidelines with regard to their control are outlined, based on the Sphere Project.


The tsunami that struck 11 countries in South Asia on 26 December 2004 represents the greatest natural disaster of our times, prompting the biggest peacetime aid operation in history. Five million people have been severely affected by the tsunami. The World Health Organization (WHO) has highlighted that in the aftermath of the tsunami, infectious disease outbreaks will add to the heavy toll of the disaster itself, possibly even doubling the number of casualties.1 Consequently, the WHO has strengthened the surveillance for infectious diseases and released several warnings.2 Although the tsunami catastrophe was unusually vast, it was a classic natural disaster. Many experts believe that the risks of infectious disease outbreaks following natural disasters have been overemphasised and have led to unnecessary and potentially harmful public health activities.3 This paper discusses the risk and prevention strategies of potential infectious disease outbreaks in the aftermath of the recent tsunami based on a literature review of previous similar disasters and current evidence.

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