OBJECTIVES: The study aimed to determine whether exposure to a volcanic eruption was associated with increased prevalence of physical and/or mental symptoms.
DESIGN: Cohort, with non-exposed control group.
SETTING: Natural disasters like volcanic eruptions constitute a major public-health threat. The Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull exposed residents in southern Iceland to continuous ash fall for more than 5 weeks in spring 2010. This study was conducted during November 2010-March 2011, 6-9 months after the Eyjafjallajökull eruption.
PARTICIPANTS: Adult (18-80 years of age) eruption-exposed South Icelanders (N=1148) and a control population of residents of Skagafjörður, North Iceland (N=510). The participation rate was 72%.
MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Physical symptoms in the previous year (chronic), in the previous month (recent), General Health Questionnaire (GHQ-12) measured psychological morbidity.
RESULTS: The likelihood of having symptoms during the last month was higher in the exposed population, such as; tightness in the chest (OR 2.5; 95% CI 1.1 to 5.8), cough (OR 2.6; 95% CI 1.7 to 3.9), phlegm (OR 2.1; 95% CI 1.3 to 3.2), eye irritation (OR 2.9; 95% CI 2.0 to 4.1) and psychological morbidity symptoms (OR 1.3; 95% CI 1.0 to 1.7). Respiratory symptoms during the last 12 months were also more common in the exposed population; cough (OR 2.2; 95% CI 1.6 to 2.9), dyspnoea (OR 1.6; 95% CI 1.1 to 2.3), although the prevalence of underlying asthma and heart disease was similar. Twice as many in the exposed population had two or more symptoms from nose, eyes or upper-respiratory tract (24% vs 13%, p<0.001); these individuals were also more likely to experience psychological morbidity (OR 4.7; 95% CI 3.4 to 6.5) compared with individuals with no symptoms. Most symptoms exhibited a dose-response pattern within the exposed population, corresponding to low, medium and high exposure to the eruption.
CONCLUSIONS: 6-9 months after the Eyjafjallajökull eruption, residents living in the exposed area, particularly those closest to the volcano, had markedly increased prevalence of various physical symptoms. A portion of the exposed population reported multiple symptoms and may be at risk for long-term physical and psychological morbidity. Studies of long-term consequences are therefore warranted.
BMJ Publishing Group , 2012. Vol. 2, no 6