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Lightning Safety Program
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Medical Aspects of Lightning

I'm meteorologist John Jensenius with the National Weather Service. I'm here to tell you the unfortunate facts about lighting strike victims. In the United States each year, lightning kills an average of 73 people and injures more than 300 people. While any death is tragic and devastating to the family, injuries can be equally tragic and even more devastating to the family. For those who have a relative who suffers a significant disability from a lightning, life changes forever. In addition to the physical pain and mental anguish suffered by the victim and the family, the incident may result in the loss of income for the family. Over time, medical expenses for treatment may drain the family's assets.

If someone is struck by lightning, it's important that they receive the appropriate medical attention immediately. Some deaths can be prevented if the victim is attended to promptly. Lightning victims do not carry an electrical charge and are safe to handle. First, have someone call 911 or your local ambulance service. Check to see that the victim is breathing and has a pulse and continue to monitor the victim until help arrives. Cardiac arrest is the immediate cause of death in lightning fatalities. If necessary, begin cardio pulmonary resuscitation (CPR). If possible, move the victim to a safer place. Don't let the rescuers become lightning victims. Lightning can strike the same place twice. Physically, only a few lightning strike victims suffer burns. Due to the conductivity of the human body, lightning burns are usually minor and most burns occur when objects next to the body such as rings, necklaces or metal coins are heated by the lightning. In addition, sweat vaporized by lightning can cause burns.

Mentally, lightning strike victims may face many challenges that they have to live with for the rest of their lives. When the brain is affected by a lightning strike, the person has difficulty with the mental processes most of us take for granted. The person many suffer from short-term memory loss and may have difficulty mentally storing new information and accessing old information. Victims may often find it very difficult to carry out more than one task at a time and may be easily distracted. Their personality may change and they may become easily irritated. Victims often complain of being easily fatigued and can become exhausted after a few hours of work. This may be because mental tasks that were once automatic now require intense concentration to accomplish. Although some victims may sleep excessively at first, after a few weeks many find it difficult to sleep more than 2-3 hours at a time.

Another common long-term problem for survivors is pain. Medically, pain is hard to quantify. Lightning strike victims often have irreparable nerve damage from which they will suffer the rest of their lives. The pain can be so bad that it affects the person's ability to function. Many survivors complain of chronic headaches, some of which are intense and debilitating. It's important to remember that while many lightning victims survive, their lives are changed forever and their dreams for the future and those of their families will never be the same. For more information on lightning safety, go to

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