A follow-up study of a large group of children struck by lightning

Lynette Mary Ann Silva, Mary Ann Cooper, Ryan Blumenthal, Neil Pliskin


Background. On 11 November 1994, 26 preadolescent girls, 2 adult supervisors and 7 dogs were sleeping in a tent in rural South Africa when the tent was struck by lightning. Four of the girls and 4 of the dogs were killed. The 2 adults were unharmed, but all but 3 of the children suffered significant injuries. An article in 2002 detailed the event and examined the medical and psychological changes in the surviving girls.

Objective. To understand the medical and psychological changes secondary to lightning strike years after injury.

Methods. An online questionnaire was prepared that included a checklist of physical and psychological symptoms. Participants were asked to report on both initial and current symptoms. Eleven of the 22 survivors were contacted, and 10 completed the survey.

Results. Participants reported that initial physical symptoms generally resolved over time, with ~10 - 20% continuing to experience physical symptoms. Vision problems persisted in 50% of respondents. Psychological symptoms, overall, had a later onset and were more likely to be chronic or currently experienced. Depression and anxiety, specifically, were higher among the survivors than the reported incidence in South Africa.

Conclusions. Initial and current/chronic physical and psychological symptoms following lightning strike are reported, adding to the body of literature on the long-term after-effects of lightning strike on survivors. A brief discussion on post-traumatic stress disorder symptomatology and post-lightning shock syndrome is provided.

Authors' affiliations

Lynette Mary Ann Silva, Department of Psychiatry, University of Texas-Southwestern, Dallas, Texas, USA

Mary Ann Cooper, Department of Emergency Medicine, College of Medicine, University of Illinois, Chicago, Ill., USA; African Centres for Lightning and Electromagnetics Network, Makerere University School of Business, Kampala, Uganda

Ryan Blumenthal, Department of Forensic Sciences, School of Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Pretoria, South Africa

Neil Pliskin, Department of Psychiatry, College of Medicine, University of Illinois, Chicago, Ill., USA

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Lightning injury; Burns; Lightning burns; Cataract; Macula; Eye injury; Psychological injury; Chronic pain; Follow-up study; Clinical symptom; Post-traumatic stress disorder; Post lightning shock syndrome

Cite this article

South African Medical Journal 2016;106(9):929-932. DOI:10.7196/SAMJ.2016.v106i9.10564

Article History

Date submitted: 2016-01-20
Date published: 2016-08-10

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