Don't use mobile phone during storms, warn doctors

Letter: Injury from lightning strike while using mobile phone BMJ Volume 332 p 1513

Three doctors in this week's BMJ warn of the risk of using mobile phones outdoors during stormy weather.

They describe the case of a 15 year old girl who was witnessed being struck by lightning while using her mobile phone in a large park in London during stormy weather. She was successfully resuscitated, but one year later she suffered complex physical, cognitive, and emotional problems.

If someone is struck by lightning, the high resistance of human skin results in lightning being conducted over the skin without entering the body, explain the authors. This is known as flashover and has a low death rate. Conductive materials such as liquids or metallic objects disrupt the flashover and result in internal injury with greater death rates.

To their knowledge, no similar cases have been reported in the medical literature. They found three cases reported in newspapers in China, Korea, and Malaysia, all resulting in death.

"This rare phenomenon is a public health issue, and education is necessary to highlight the risk of using mobile phones outdoors during stormy weather to prevent future fatal consequences from lightning strike injuries related to mobile phones," say the authors.

"The Australian Lightning Protection Standard recommends that metallic objects, including cordless or mobile phones, should not be used (or carried) outdoors during a thunderstorm," they add. "We could not find any advice from British telecommunication companies."

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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