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Tibetan plateau earthquake: altitude challenges to medical rescue work
  1. Tengda Xu1,
  2. Zhenhua Wang2,
  3. Tao Li1,
  4. Veronica Pei3,
  5. Liping Wen1,
  6. Lidong Wan2,
  7. Yuxuan Wang4,
  8. Xuezhong Yu1
  1. 1Department of Emergency Medicine, Peking Union Medical College Hospital, Peking Union Medical College, Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, Beijing, China
  2. 2Beijing Emergency Medical Center, Beijing, China
  3. 3Department of Emergency Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Maryland, Baltimore, Maryland, USA
  4. 4Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland, USA
  1. Correspondence to Tengda Xu, No. 1 Shuaifuyuan, Dongcheng District, Beijing 100730, China; xutengda{at}


Background Rescue efforts for earthquakes in remote plateau regions require large numbers of professional personnel to be transported from various lowland regions for relief work. Unacclimatised rescuers to high-altitude regions commonly suffer acute mountain sickness (AMS), which makes relief efforts inefficient and potentially dangerous.

Methods In this study, the AMS symptoms of 78 unacclimatised rescue workers for the Yushu earthquake from Beijing were recorded using the Lake Louise AMS self-report questionnaire. Heart rate and blood oxygen were recorded at rest before departure, during rest and during activity.

Results After ascending, resting heart rate increased from mean 75.87 bpm to 87.45 bpm and resting SpO2 decreased from an average of 98.51% to 90.35% (both p<0.001). The mean Lake Louise AMS Score for participants was 3.1 (95% CI 2.6 to 3.6). 29 members (37.2%) met the diagnosis criteria for AMS. 16 members (20.5%) were evacuated early due to acute AMS (AMS score ≥5). Rhodiola was offered on a voluntary basis as a prophylactic measure but shown to be ineffective.

Conclusion Given the ineffectiveness of prophylactic measures and the urgency of such disaster situations, it is unrealistic to mobilise rescue teams from lowland regions for immediate relief efforts. A local disaster plan specific to plateau earthquakes needs to be developed with local personnel for timely and efficient relief.

  • Plateau
  • earthquake
  • acute mountain sickness
  • prehospital care
  • major incident planning
  • anaphylaxis/allergy
  • emergency care systems
  • emergency departments
  • emergency department management
  • intensive care
  • major incidents
  • clinical care

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  • Funding The subjects were unpaid and data collection was funded by the Peking Union Medical College Hospital.

  • Competing interests None.

  • Patient consent Written consent was obtained before the study began; original copies of consent forms are kept by the Beijing Emergency Medical Center.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.