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September 2, 2009

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Quake survivors 'suffer acute impact on brains'

NEW research revealed an acute impact of China's Wenchuan magnitude-8.0 earthquake on the brain functions of its survivors, which also posed a risk to their mental health, a report said.

The report, published in the United States journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is about a study carried out by the West China Hospital of Sichuan University in collaboration with colleagues from King's College London and the University of Illinois.

Based on data collected within 25 days after the quake that hit southwest China's Sichuan Province, the study made the quickest response to a disaster of its kind.

By using a method known as magnetic resonance imaging to scan the survivors' brains from the 13th day after the quake, researchers found functional changes in the brain areas that monitored emotions and memories, said Professor Gong Qiyong, team leader from the West China Hospital who also holds a scholarship position at the University of Liverpool.

The results showed that regional activities in these areas increased significantly while connectivity between different elements was reduced in healthy participating survivors in 13 to 25 days after the Wenchuan quake.

"It's like a computer network. Individual computers are carrying heavier tasks, while the connecting system is facing problems that decreased coordination," Gong said.

Survivors of big disasters are likely to develop stress-related disorders such as acute stress disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. And the proportion of PTSD in the earthquake survivors could be as high as 20 percent, according to Gong.


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