SENDAI – At least 11 people have died of pneumonia and about 150 have been hospitalized with the illness at Ishinomaki Red Cross Hospital in Miyagi Prefecture since the March 11 quake and tsunami, the hospital said Tuesday.
The number of patients is five to six times higher than during the same period last year, it said.
Many patients contracted pneumonia as a result of inflammations caused by seawater entering their lungs during the tsunami, or due to low body temperatures shortly after the disaster, the hospital said. Dust, chemical substances stirred up from dried sludge and a lack of oral hygiene are also believed to be behind the surge in cases.
Cases of pneumonia are also increasing at hospitals in other tsunami-ravaged areas, including Kesennuma City Hospital, also in Miyagi, and Iwate Prefectural Miyako Hospital.
Many of the patients are elderly, suggesting a decline in their physical strength while staying at shelters is also a factor, Ishinomaki Red Cross Hospital said.
One type of pneumonia is caused by aspiration into the lungs of contaminated saliva while sleeping, and is highly likely to occur when evacuees lack water to brush their teeth or gargle and sleep long hours, said Masaru Yanai, who heads the hospital’s respiratory medicine department.
Many seniors with chronic diseases, including diabetes and heart disease, are also at high risk of contracting pneumonia.