Xavier Bosch, Barcelona
Hundreds of severely ill patients, including 80 patients who were in intensive care, were successfully evacuated from Dresden’s University Hospital last week when the river Elbe exceeded the previous flood record of more than 9 m and no end of the flooding was in sight. The hospital, only 500m from the river, normally treats 1200 patients. The main logistical problem in the crisis was to transfer the 80 intensive care patients. When suitable beds were found elsewhere the patients were taken to Dresden airport. Army hospital aeroplanes or helicopters transported them to university hospitals in Leipzig, Berlin, Cologne, and Hamburg.
Earlier in the week Dresden’s hospitals had begun to dismiss all non-urgent cases and to put off operations. Doctors and hospital managers searched for beds in nearby hospitals. The only patients left were 10 people who recently received a bone marrow transplant. Their evacuation was considered too risky because of their very low immune defense capacities.
Meanwhile, it is feared that the flooding of chemical plants in the Czech Republic as well as in Germany could cause longstanding environmental problems. In Spain, a village near Barcelona has been hit by an outbreak of shigellosis, affecting over 10% of the population. The outbreak, caused by Shigella sonnei, has been linked to consumption of drinking water that may have been contaminated after heavy rains caused floods in Catalonia in the first week of August.
The outbreak, affecting 670 people among the population of 6600 in the town of Santa Maria de Palautordera, caused a gastroenteritis-like disease, with some people having dysentery and bloody diarrhea. Although no one has died, 20 patients have been admitted to a nearby hospital because of the severity of dysentery symptoms. The Catalan government’s health department said everyone affected received water from one of four companies supplying drinking water to the village.
Shigella infections are responsible for an estimated 600,000 deaths a year around the world, mainly in developing countries. Last week the health ministry of Saxony, Germany, recommended that people should not drink tap water in the worst affected cities, such as Dresden. And the Czech government will vaccinate about 65,000 children against hepatitis A, which can spread when sewage systems are damaged and infected feces enter drinking water. The health minister of the Czech Republic has asked the government to provide for other public health measures after the floods, including testing of drinking water and distribution of water disinfectant.
Annette Tuffs, Heidelberg