Another Cell Phone Health Risk: Killer Thunderstorms - InformationWeek

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6/23/2006
01:32 PM
Elena Malykhina
Elena Malykhina
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Another Cell Phone Health Risk: Killer Thunderstorms

At first it sounds like a hoax, but reportedly doctors at the Northwick Park Hospital in England claim that using cell phones, iPods, and devices of that ilk during thunderstorms increases a person's chances of being struck--and even killed--by lightning. The doctors cite a real case involving a teenager who was struck by lightning while using her cell phone in one of London's parks last year.

At first it sounds like a hoax, but reportedly doctors at the Northwick Park Hospital in England claim that using cell phones, iPods, and devices of that ilk during thunderstorms increases a person's chances of being struck--and even killed--by lightning. The doctors cite a real case involving a teenager who was struck by lightning while using her cell phone in one of London's parks last year.That's a scary thought, considering that most of us are glued to our cell phones or sometimes too caught up listening to our iPods to even notice a thunderstorm closing in. Postings on the Web are reporting that the U.K. doctors wrote in a letter in today's British Medical Journal about a risk involving metal objects and lightning storms. If a metal object, like a cell phone or an iPod, is in contact with the skin when someone is struck by lightning, it increases the chances of internal injuries and death. People have a much higher chance of survival if they don't have metal objects on them, since most of the shock will usually pass over the skin and not through the body.

The 15-year-old girl who the doctors bring in as an example was revived after she was struck, but continued suffering emotional and physical problems, such as hearing loss on the side where she was holding the cell phone, a year later. Apparently, three similar cases in China, South Korea, and Malaysia resulted in fatalities.

The doctors are calling this "rare phenomenon" a serious health risk that requires educating the public. I guess they'll be adding it to the list of other risks, like cell phones causing brain cancer and Wi-Fi emissions resulting in headaches, fatigue, irritability, and lack of concentration.

The British Medical Journal report shines a realistic light on life-threatening dangers of the technology we consider our lifeline. But if you paid attention in science class, this should be old news. I clearly remember my high school teacher advising students to stay away from fences, telephone lines, power lines, and any other metal or electrically conductive objects during thunderstorms. Avoiding hilltops and open spaces is also a good idea. But that was years ago, so this is a 21st century reminder.

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