Monday, July 03, 2006

Don't Use Mobile Phones During Storms

Lightning poses a direct threat to people whilst using mobile phones out of doors during a thunderstorm, say UK doctors.

Dr Swinda Esprit and two other senior London doctors report a case study in this week's British Medical Journal of a 15-year-old girl who was struck by lightning while using her mobile phone in a large city park during stormy weather.

The girl survived but suffered an instant heart attack, luckily being revived in time. She lost all memory of the incident, although the lightning strike was witnessed by other people.

However a year later, the patient had become wheelchair-bound, suffering from physical, cognitive and emotional problems as well as a badly perforated eardrum in the left ear, the side where she had been holding the mobile phone.

The northwest London physicians, working at Northwick Park Hospital, say they have found three press reports of people being killed by lightning while using their mobile phones outdoors.

These incidents took place in China in 2005, in South Korea in 2004 and in Malaysia in 1999. However, no similar cases have ever been reported in medical literature, they noted. "This rare phenomenon is a public health issue, and education is necessary to highlight the risk," say Esprit and colleagues.

As lightning chooses the easiest route to the ground, someone standing up and using the phone (and possibly wet at the same time) may well offer the path of least resistance. Advice to the public from national safety authorities is either confused or nonexistent, the doctors claim.

Australia's Lightning Protection Standard says that neither mobile phones nor cordless phones should used, or even carried, outdoors during a thunderstorm. On the other hand, US National Weather Service says on its website that both are safe to use "because there is no direct path between you and the lightning".

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