Japan At Risk for Disease Outbreaks Following Tsunami

The tsunami triggered by Friday’s 8.9 magnitude earthquake in Japan left an impossible amount of destruction and devastation in it’s wake – and the aftereffects could last for even longer.  Following a natural disaster, food and water supplies are often contaminated and people are forced to live in deplorable conditions.This, naturally, can lead to the outbreak of a number of serious, life-threatening diseases.  Here is a list of the diseases typically linked with tsunamis, according to the World Health Organization, how they spread, and how to fight them.

1. Cholera

Cholera recently came under a worldwide spotlight after Haiti suffered an outbreak following last year’s earthquake.  It is an infection of the small intestine and that causes large amounts of watery diarrhea.  Symptoms include abdominal cramps, dry skin, excessive thirst, lethargy, nausea, vomiting, and a rapid pulse.  Cholera is spread by drinking water or eating food contaminated with fecal matter.  Doctors treat the disease by replenishing the body with lost electrolytes and fluids.

2. Hepatitis

Hepatitis A and E, like cholera, are spread through ingesting anything contaminated with fecal matter.  The infection causes the liver to swell and is associated with symptoms such as fatigue, itching, fever, nausea and yellow skin (jaundice).  There is no known treatment for Hepatitis, and recovery can take months.

3. Leptospirosis

Leptospirosis is a severe bacterial infection spread through drinking water that has been contaminated with animal urine.  It can also be spread through breast milk, or from mother to unborn child.  Symptoms include cough, fever, headache, muscle pain, nausea, vomiting and chills.  If treated with the proper medications, the prognosis for leptospirosis is good.

4. Typhoid Fever

Typhoid fever is a bacterial infection that is spread through contaminated food and water.  People can unknowingly become carriers of the disease and spread it for years.  Its symptoms include fever, abdominal pain, diarrhea, chest and belly rashes, hallucinations, nosebleeds, severe fatigue, lethargic feeling, and weakness.  To treat typhoid fever fluids and electrolytes may be given through a vein.  Doctors will also administer the appropriate antibiotics to kill the bacteria.

5. Plague

The plague is a serious, potentially deadly disease that people can get when they are bitten by a flea that carries the plague bacteria from an infected rodent.  Certain types, like pneumonic plague can also be spread from person-to-person, when an infected person coughs in the presence of another person.  Symptoms include chills, fever, severe headache, muscle pain, difficulty breathing, seizures, and bleeding. Antibiotics such as streptomycin, gentamicin, doxycycline, or ciprofloxacin are used to treat plague. Oxygen, intravenous fluids, and respiratory support usually are also needed.  Without immediate treatment (within 24 hours) most people infected with the plague will die.

6. Japanese encephalitis

Japanese encephalitis is a virus that causes the brain to swell.  It is spread through mosquitoes.  It can cause fever, headache, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, abnormal movements, occasional convulsions (especially in infants), coma, and paralysis.  One if four cases result in death.  There is no specific treatment once it is contracted, but there is a vaccine to protect against it.