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J Formos Med Assoc. 2002 May;101(5):322-8.

Effects of a major earthquake on the status of pre-existing physical illness and levels of psychosocial distress in community inhabitants.

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  • 1Department of Social Medicine, National Taiwan University College of Medicine, 7 Chung-Shan South Road, Taipei, Taiwan.



A major earthquake struck central Taiwan on September 21, 1999, causing a tremendous amount of damage in a very short time. This study surveyed the changes in the status of pre-existing physical illness and levels of psychosocial distress in a community after this earthquake.


One hundred and thirty inhabitants of Lu-Gu who were more than 40 years old were surveyed in June 2000, 9 months after the earthquake. A medical team in the disaster area carried out personal interviews using a self-report questionnaire. The questionnaire included demographic characteristics, common physical illnesses, and psychologic distress and resource loss measures.


Subjects reported more rapidly declining visual acuity (11.5%) and worse upper respiratory (7.7%) and gastrointestinal tract symptoms (3.8%) after the earthquake. The mean value of the psychologic distress scores was significantly higher than before the earthquake (12.16 +/- 3.28 vs 10.75 +/- 2.63; p < 0.01). Women and the elderly had higher psychologic distress scores. Subjects had considerable loss in financial resources, including home contents, adequate food, and sentimental possessions, (3.57 +/- 3.94, assessed using a resource loss measure on a 0-3 Likert scale with a possible range of 0-12). Women, the elderly, those who lived alone, and those with severe damage to their homes reported more loss than others in personal resources such as "feeling that my life is peaceful", "personal health", and "sense of optimism", but not in financial resources or interpersonal resources such as companionship, intimacy with at least one friend, and support from co-workers.


There was an increased level of psychologic distress and financial burden among community members 9 months after the earthquake. The findings of this study suggest the need to strengthen community-based health care systems in disaster-prone areas, so that they can provide continuous care, especially related to the psychosocial impacts of these events.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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