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Sunny days pose risk of 'flicker illness' for a few airlifted patients

"Almost 10 years ago in Japan, more than 700 children were hospitalized after watching a cartoon explosion on a show called Pokemon," Cushman said. "And with numbers like that, theres more at play than the mere two in 10,000 patients that statistics show are vulnerable to light-induced epilepsy. Weve begun to wonder if even people not diagnosed with epilepsy can also be affected, to some degree, by a flickering stimulus like the light in our report."

Cushman noted that other studies further underscore the more widespread photosensitivity evidenced by the Pokemon cartoon incident; one showed that even 28 percent of normal, non-epileptic control subjects exposed to light flashes can suffer symptoms such as nausea, headaches, fear and vomiting, if the flickering light is set to the right frequency. In that same study, as many as 5 percent of "normal" subjects experienced a loss of consciousness or seized.

Convinced that photosensitivity triggered by spinning rotors, though rare, is an under-recognized and preventable complication of medical air transport one that can be produced even in some patients without previous seizure history Cushman now instructs flight paramedics to routinely shield patients eyes while en route.

"More than 30 years ago, there was a case reported of a young soldier waiting to board a helicopter who began seizing without any previous medical history," Cushman said. "Other reports exist for incapacitation of Air Force pilots, with anything from simple spatial disorientation to serious seizures. Whats interesting is that these findings were reported for previously healthy individuals."

He and Floccare use the term "flicker illness" to refer to the whole continuum of complications, from wooziness to vomiting to all-out seizing, induced by quick-flashing light.

"Many aircraft commonly used for air medical transport have similar frequencies to the 24 flickers per second of the rotor blades in the he
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Contact: Becky Jones
Rebecca_jones@urmc.rochester.edu
585-275-8490
University of Rochester Medical Center
5-Mar-2007


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