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What happens if lightning strikes a person?

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The world record for most lightning injuries is held by Roy Sullivan, a park ranger at Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, USA. Sullivan was struck by lightning seven times between 1942 and 1977. Although he suffered burns due to his hair and clothes catching fire, he managed to survive all seven incidents; But in 1983, at the age of 72, he died due to suicide.

Suicidal ideation is another common symptom in survivors who experience severe pain and problems with recovery. This issue has been stated by Steve Mashburn in his conversation with the Washington Post. In 1969, Mashburn suffered a broken back after being struck by lightning and currently manages an international support group for lightning survivors.

Fortunately, lightning injuries are among the most preventable cases in developed countries. According to Cooper, when a thunderstorm occurs, you should take shelter in a safe space as soon as possible and do not leave your shelter until 30 minutes after no lightning has occurred.

According to Blumenthal’s warning, only 3 to 5 percent of lightning strikes directly hit humans. According to him, injuries caused by objects such as trees or buildings hitting people after being struck by lightning comprise another 5% of lightning injuries. The most common lightning injuries, which account for 80% of injuries, are related to lateral lightning strikes and ground currents.

In lateral lightning, the victim is near the object that was struck by the lightning, and as a result, some of the electrical potential is transferred to the bystander. A similar thing happens in the ground current and it happens when the lightning strikes the ground under the victim’s feet. These incidents can lead to the injury of several people at the same time. According to Blumenthal, this is what causes herds of animals to disappear at once when lightning strikes the ground.

The final 10 to 12 lightning injuries come from a strange phenomenon called “upward currents”. This situation occurs when positively charged electrical forces on the ground are attracted to negatively charged storm clouds overhead. By strengthening the positive charge, a tendril of charged air moves towards the sky and an electric shock is sent to the ground.

Today, thanks to the efforts of Cooper and his colleagues at the National Lightning Safety Council, lightning-related fatalities are extremely rare in the United States. Since 2001, this council has designated a week as Lightning Safety Awareness Week in order to raise awareness about the dangers of lightning. When this group started its work, the number of lightning victims in America was an average of 55 people per year; But this number decreased to 19 people in 2022.

Now Cooper and Blumenthal hope to create similar awareness and resources like lightning rods in Africa. Cooper’s new initiative, the African Centers for Lightning and Electromagnetic Network (ACLENet), is focused on reducing human and animal fatalities across the continent. This mission is of particular importance due to the increasing speed of climate change and the occurrence of frequent and more severe storms in the African continent.

“We’re going to see more unusual climate events on shorter timescales,” Blumenthal said. Therefore, we must take this deadly phenomenon seriously.”

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