Lightning

Lightning: Deadly But Avoidable

Labor Day is coming up, signaling the unofficial end of summer. Kids will be heading back to school and families will be trying to get as much outdoor fun into the waning days of the season as possible.

But as you go about your last-minute recreation, there’s a rare but deadly danger that our concierge primary care doctors in Jupiter want to warn you about: lightning.

Our state is known as the “Lightning Capital of the U.S.” More people die from lightning strikes in Florida every year than in any other state, and the southeastern coast of the state is second only to the Tampa area in reported fatalities.

That’s why we want to remind you that these tragic deaths can be prevented, as long as you know how to avoid them.

Recent deaths

Lightning kills an average of 23 people every year. So far this year, 12 people have been killed by lightning, including a 27-year-old man doing lawn maintenance in New Smyrna Beach, Florida, and a soldier on a training exercise at Fort Gordon, Georgia, both in July.

The most recent deaths occurred this month in Washington, D.C., in Lafayette Park just north of the the White House, as the victims huddled under a tree for protection from a sudden severe thunderstorm.

One was a 29-year-old bank vice president in town on business. The others were a Wisconsin couple celebrating their 56th wedding anniversary. All three were killed, while another woman who was also struck remains in critical condition.

They were struck by an unusual six-prong bolt that hit the same place within half a second, creating a ground current.

According to the National Weather Service (NWS), “When lightning strikes a tree or other object, much of the energy travels outward from the strike in and along the ground surface.”

“This is known as ground current. Anyone outside near a lightning strike is potentially a victim of ground current,” the agency adds.

Five potential paths 

A ground current discharge is one of five ways people can by struck by lightning.

The five are:

Direct strike – These most often occur to victims who are in open areas. While the most deadly type, it’s not as common as the other four.

Side flash – Also called a “side splash,” these occur when lightning strikes a taller object near the victim and a portion of the current jumps from the taller object to the victim.

Ground current – This type, mentioned above, causes the most lightning deaths and injuries, including to farm animals. 

Conduction – Lightning can travel long distances in wires or other metal surfaces, because the metal provides a path for the lightning to follow. This type is the way most people are killed indoors during a lightning storm, including when they’re taking showers, washing dishes, or talking on corded phones. 

Streamers – While uncommon, streamers can injure or kill when a side bolt separates or rebounds from the main or leader bolt and discharges.

Lightning safety rules

To stay safe from lightning, the NWS offers these guidelines to avoid being struck by lightning.

  • Appoint someone to watch the skies during your outdoor work or recreation. Check the latest thunderstorm forecast and monitor the NOAA Weather Radio.
  • When lightning is in your vicinity, go quickly inside a completely closed building. Do not consider carports, open garages, covered patios, or pavilions adequate shelter.
  • If no closed building is convenient, get inside a hard-topped, all-metal vehicle and be sure the windows are completely closed.
  • Do not take shelter under a tree, especially if it is tall and isolated.
  • Get out of the water. This includes pools, lakes, rivers, oceans, water rides, and even puddles. And leave the beach immediately if you see or hear a thunderstorm approaching.
  • Put down metal objects such as fishing poles, golf clubs, tennis rackets, tools, etc.
  • Dismount from tractors and heavy construction equipment. Do not seek shelter under the equipment.
  • Move away from metal objects such as metal fences, metal sheds, telephone and power lines, pipelines, etc.

Indoor safety

  • Avoid contact with corded phones.
  • Avoid contact with electrical equipment or cords. If you plan to unplug any electrical equipment, do so before the storm arrives.
  • Avoid contact with plumbing. When thunderstorms are occurring, do not take a shower or bath, wash dishes, or do the laundry.
  • Move away from windows and doors. Do not stay on the porch.

If someone is struck

Call 911 immediately.

  • Determine whether the victim is unconscious. Check to see if they are breathing, and gently roll the victim onto their back.
  • If the victim is not breathing, perform CPR until the paramedics arrive. (A reminder: Mouth-to-mouth breathing is no longer recommended to revive someone; regular chest compressions—between 100 and 120 a minute—are more effective.)
  • Always keep in mind the NWS directive: When thunder roars, go indoors.
omicron variant

Omicron Variant Still Largely a Mystery

There’s still much we don’t know about the new COVID-19 omicron variant. The SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus was first detected just over a month ago. Our concierge primary care doctors at MD 2.0 in Jupiter have gotten questions from so many of our patients. We wanted to bring you up to date on what we know at the moment.

Health officials are conducting laboratory tests and reviewing real-world data as the variant spreads. However, it will be several weeks before we know precisely what we’re dealing with. There are some early indications, however, that can allow us to make a few assumptions.

How different is omicron?

The new variant originally caught the world’s attention in South Africa. Researchers there detected as many as 30 mutations on the shell of the coronavirus. 

In the intervening weeks, we’ve learned that omicron is highly contagious, even more so than delta. While delta’s transmissibility has been compared to that of chicken pox, omicron has been spreading much more rapidly.

The World Health Organization (WHO) released an update in mid-December. It noted the omicron variant is spreading faster than any previously detected strain of the coronavirus.

More benign?

There’s some possible good news. So far as real-world data have been able to determine, the omicron variant appears to trigger slightly less severe cases than delta. This information is very preliminary and is based on a study in South Africa where the infection and vaccination rates differ from that in the U.S.

Another small study this month by the CDC examined 43 people infected with the omicron variant. Three-quarters of the group received vaccinations, and a third of those also had booster shots. One person from the group was hospitalized for two days. The rest experienced cough, fatigue, congestion, or a runny nose.

While noting the report was “encouraging,” John Moore, a professor of microbiology and immunology at the Weill Cornell Medical College, told NBC News that, “We’re not out of the woods yet.”

“Only four cases [in the study] were aged over 65, while 29 were under 40. Young people generally have milder infections, whatever the variant,” he added. “So we don’t yet know what omicron might do in much older and more vulnerable populations.”

The variant is not benign, however. In the middle of the month, Britain reported its first death from the omicron variant. Since then, reports of possible omicron-related deaths grew.

Omicron now surpassed delta as the dominant variant due its rapid spread.

What about the vaccines?

The question of vaccine effectiveness against omicron is a case of good news/bad news, or perhaps vice versa. The bad news, according to the South African study, the two-dose Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine’s effectiveness at preventing illness dropped from around 93 percent to about 30 percent against the omicron variant. It still provided about 70 percent protection against hospitalization, though.

The good news is, the study found that the vaccine still offers as much as 70 percent effectiveness against hospitalization with any current variant of COVID-19, including omicron. Boosters increase this protection.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said recently that boosters will be enough protection against the omicron variant. He didn’t see a need for a new vaccine specifically designed to fight omicron.

“Our booster vaccine regimens work against omicron,” he said at a White House coronavirus briefing. “At this point, there is no need for a variant-specific booster.”

Vaccines necessary

At the same time, he warned those unvaccinated are still at high risk of contracting COVID-19. This includes the delta and omicron variant.

“If you are unvaccinated, you are very vulnerable—not only to the existing delta surge we are experiencing, but also to omicron,” he said.

Vaccines continue to offer the best protection against severe illness and death against any variant of the coronavirus, including omicron.

“[Omicron] may be a more mild variant but we just don’t know yet. It’s too soon,” Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Toronto, told NBC News. For now, “if you’re vaccinated, chances are you’re going to have a milder course,” he added.

Do we still need masks?

One question we often get from our patients is whether they need to keep wearing masks once they’ve been vaccinated.

Here’s what the CDC says: “If you are fully vaccinated, to maximize protection and prevent possibly spreading COVID-19 to others, wear a mask indoors in public if you are in an area of substantial or high transmission.”

We would add that it’s also a good idea to wear one if you are indoors in a public place where you’re not sure how many there have been vaccinated, especially if few others are wearing masks. Until we know more about the omicron variant, wearing a mask for now offers added protection against breakthrough cases.

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That includes smart plans for healthy eating, along with implementing some common-sense guidelines to keep COVID-19 at bay.

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The fact is, we’re all fed up with the “new normal.” People want more than anything to return to the way our lives were before this scourge attacked the world early this year. Pandemic fatigue is not only real, it’s totally understandable.

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Our concierge doctors in Jupiter, Florida at MD2.0, would like to offer you some ideas on small ways to improve your overall health that we hope you’ll find easier to stick with.

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