Tsunami leaves patients with unusual infections

According to a report in the New England Journal of Medicine, the December tsunami which left more than 200 000 people dead or missing in Asia and Africa, appears to have caused some unusual lung and sinus infections and also a paralysing brain infection.

In the report doctors from Massachusetts General Hospital say a 17-year-old girl from Indonesia, developed a cough, followed by headache, nausea and vomiting. When the tsunami struck she was 2,5km inland when a wave swept her up and carried her another kilometre.

Doctors initially treated her for pneumonia, but a week later she developed a weakness on the right side of her body which progressed to paralysis.

It was discovered that the teenager had a brain abscess caused by the same infection that had first attacked her lungs.

She recovered and was able to walk after intensive treatment with antibiotics.

Tjandra Yoga Aditama, a senior lung doctor who served in a government team that re-opened hospitals in Aceh, says although the case was rare among tsunami survivors, there were a few others.

In Aceh the tsunami left more than 160 000 killed or missing.

Aditama said that pneumonia was a major problem for tsunami survivors, but so far he had not heard of any new cases since early this year.

World Health Organisation (WHO) officials also say the case reported was likely to be rare.

Anshu Banerjee, head of the WHO office in Aceh, says this is most likely an individual case, but would not be a transferable disease based on the information available.

A team of doctors at Bangkok's Rajavithi hospital also report that after the December 26 disaster they also had to treat lung problems in dozens of patients who inhaled salt water contaminated by bacteria often found in the soil.

A few of those patients went on to develop severe pneumonia, and all had to be treated with antibiotics.

Doctors at another Bangkok hospital, discovered the case of a 35-year-old man who had also inhaled seawater, but whose infection had produced a large amount of green-coloured purulent material and sand packed into his sinuses.

After rinsing out his sinuses, doctors uncovered five types of bacteria present. He recovered after receiving antibiotic therapy.

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