Philippines: Health issues related to volcanic eruptions

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Update December 15, 2009: AmeriCares is currently monitoring the Mount Mayon volcano situation in the Philippines and we are prepared to respond. Authorities have ordered the evacuation of 50,000 people in light of the imminent eruption. AmeriCares is reaching out to partners on the ground to determine their needs for disaster relief and related medicines, medical supplies and humanitarian aid. AmeriCares has previously responded to catastrophic disasters in the Philippines, including back-to-back typhoons earlier this year and the volcanic eruption of Mount Pinatuboin 1991.

AmeriCares has responded to several major volcanic eruptions since the organization was founded in 1982. Among the volcano-related responses were the Nevado del Ruiz eruption in Colombia in 1985, the Philippines in 1991, the Mount Nyiragongo eruption that affected the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda in 2002, and the Santa Ana volcano in El Salvador in 2005.

AmeriCares Medical Director, Dr. Frank Bia, M.D., helps emergency response and disaster relief teams prepare to respond to natural disasters around the world, including the eruption of a deadly volcano. The following are volcano related injuries and illnesses often facing survivors:

Volcanic eruptions put forth tons of hot lava and lung-searing smoke and ash. A lethal mixture of gas, ash, pumice and rock flows blanket the affected area, leaving massive destruction in its wake.

When men, women and children are not able to evacuate in time, they risk severe physical injuries and illnesses when a volcano erupts. Even small amounts of volcanic ash can be dangerous. It poses serious health risks to people with common breathing problems including bronchitis, emphysema and asthma. Survivors of volcanic eruptions often come to hospitals and emergency rooms seeking treatment for burns, bruises, broken bones and eye injuries. Toxic gases such as carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulfide, sulfur dioxide and methane fill the air, which cause choking and acute breathing problems as well as long term lung damage.

Inhaling extreme amounts of ash can lead to a life-threatening lung disease called silicosis. Silicosis cannot be treated and it causes severe breathing problems similar to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Electrical storms often accompany volcanic eruptions and can knock down trees and wires, cutting off communications and transportation when its needed most. These obstacles make it difficult evacuate and help survivors.

When responding to a serious volcanic eruption, AmeriCares partners on the ground often need critical medical supplies including burn ointments, antibiotics, wound care items, antibiotics, asthma medication and eye-drops. Other much needed items are the equipment and supplies needed to provide oxygen to people suffering from smoke inhalation and masks to protect people from ash and toxic gasses in the air.