State epidemiologists track post-earthquake emergency room visits

Following the Nov. 30 earthquake, the DHSS Emergency Operations Center (EOC) checked in regularly with Southcentral hospitals and other healthcare facilities to help ensure everyone had the resources they needed, and also to keep track of earthquake-related injuries. At the same time, a more detailed examination of emergency room visits related to the earthquake was collected through the statewide syndromic surveillance system operated by the Section of Epidemiology within the Division of Public Health (DPH). Syndromic data come to Epidemiology via healtheconnect, Alaska’s health information exchange (HIE), and allow DPH to monitor emergency room (ER) visits statewide in real time. This technology is particularly helpful during disasters or public health emergencies. The Section of Epidemiology published a summary of the earthquake-related syndromic data in an Epidemiology Bulletin on Dec. 18.

According to the bulletin, 361 earthquake-related ER visits were identified from Nov. 30 through Dec. 7. The most common reason for ER visits was injury due to falls, impacts by falling objects, and musculoskeletal damage (45 percent of all visits); other common reasons for ER visits included mental health concerns (14 percent), neurological symptoms (10 percent), and people seeking assistance with pre-existing medical issues (14 percent) because their care was interrupted by the earthquake. Data were collected from emergency departments at six facilities throughout Southcentral Alaska.

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