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Epidemic Control Toolkit
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Earthquake

Last update: 2022-03-22

Key facts

  • Impact depends on the intensity of ground shaking and the building structure quality. There is a larger impact in areas of high population and building density.
  • Generally occurs without any warning. Aftershocks can remain a significant hazard, causing further damage and increasing the psychological stress of both affected communities and humanitarian workers.
  • Potential for large influx of search and rescue and medical teams. 

Main health impacts

Health concern Risk factors
Trauma or injury Building collapse causes the majority (75 per cent) of trauma, other injuries can occur from landslides or tsunamis triggered by the earthquake. Mortality and injury peak is usually within the first 72 hours.
Diarrhoeal diseases Through interruption of water supplies, damaged or destroyed sanitation facilities and poor hygiene practices.
Respiratory illnesses, skin disease and vaccine-preventable diseases Significant population displacement and overcrowded, communal emergency shelters, coupled with poor hygiene can lead to respiratory illnesses or skin diseases. A major earthquake can cause severe damage to health facilities and lead to the disruption of routine health services such as vaccination programmes, therefore increasing the risk of transmission of vaccine-preventable diseases.
Vector-borne diseases

An earthquake might cause a break-down in solid waste management or sanitation services. This can result in an increase in breeding sites for mosquitoes in stagnant water, and after some time an increase in transmission of dengue, chikungunya and/or malaria. 

Other vectors such as rats can be affected and their number increased because of poor hygiene conditions, bringing them in closer contact with humans, and leading to an increase in incidence of Leptospirosis.

Overall adverse health outcomes Destruction and damage to health facilities and stock disrupt provision of and access not only to primary health care such as maternal and child health services, but also to essential care for chronic noncommunicable diseases (NCD).