George Washington University Emergency Medicine Physicians Responding to “Oil Spill Syndrome” in Gulf Coast

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Released: 6/24/2010 12:15 PM EDT
Source: George Washington University

Newswise — Shortly after the April 20th explosion and fire on the drilling rig, Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf Coast, the emergency and specialty physicians of the George Washington University-Maritime Medical Access program (MMA) have been responding to an increase in calls from marine spill response crews participating in the cleanup effort in the Gulf Coast.

Fielding incoming calls from Gulf Coast vessels is Daniel Casares, Communication Specialist in the GW Worldwide Emergency Communications Center. Casares states, “Every day since the first day of spill cleanup, I have received calls from vessels requesting medical advice for five to ten patients at a time, all of them sharing the same complaints.”

Crew members aboard these vessels are immediately patched to the on-call GW emergency physician for remote medical consult. The physicians have identified a pattern of similar symptoms including nausea, vertigo, headaches, respiratory problems and flu like symptoms. These environmental related health issues of oil spill responder crews have been coined in the U.S media as “Oil Spill Syndrome”, although the definite source of these illnesses have not been identified. Working in conjunction with medical officers aboard the spill response vessels, MMA physicians and staff have made the correlation that these illnesses occur after the crew has been exposed to inhaling oil dispersants and burning crude oil fumes for several hours at a time as well as handling contaminated oil clean up materials and by products.

The GW-Maritime Medical Access (MMA) program has had experience with remote maritime medical emergencies, as recently in 2009 with oversight of medical care in response to the Somali pirate hijacking of the Maersk M/V Alabama, but the recent events in the Gulf Coast have required the program staff to educate themselves as well as the crew on the detrimental implications of short and long term effect of inhaling oil fumes. The MMA program has also initiated and implemented the creation of client and crew education protocols with health signs and symptoms for medical officers to monitor for those working in the oil spill environment.

About Maritime Medical Access at The George Washington University Medical Faculty Associates Since 1989, the George Washington Medical Faculty Associates Maritime Medical Access (MMA) program has provided their clients around the world with world class 24/7 real time emergency and specialty medicine support using several methods of telecommunication and medical informatics. Utilizing board certified emergency room physicians; The MMA has developed an industry leading reputation of delivering emergent and general medical advice and direction, clinical case management, patient repatriation, emergency response training, and recommendations for medical equipment and medicine chests. http://www.gwemed.edu/maritime

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