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West J Med. 1992 Mar;156(3):278-80.

Effects of a major earthquake on calls to regional poison control centers.

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  • 1San Francisco Bay Area Regional Poison Control Center, CA 94110.


We retrospectively evaluated the effect of the Loma Prieta earthquake on calls to 2 designated regional poison control centers (San Francisco and Santa Clara) in the area. In the immediate 12 hours after the earthquake, there was an initial drop (31%) in call volume, related to telephone system overload and other technical problems. Calls from Bay Area counties outside of San Francisco and Santa Clara decreased more dramatically than those from within the host counties where the poison control centers are located. In the next 2 days, each poison control center then handled a 27% increase in call volume. Requests for information regarding safety of water supplies and other environmental concerns were significantly increased. The number of cases of actual poisoning exposure decreased, particularly poison and drug ingestions in children. Most calls directly related to the earthquake included spills and leaks of hazardous materials and questions about water and food safety. Regional poison control centers play an essential role in the emergency medical response to major disasters and are critically dependent on an operational telephone system.

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