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Doctors plan for medical emergencies in deep space

Monday June 5th, 2017

Planners of long-range space missions need to think carefully about the risk of medical emergencies, a European conference has heard.

Training crew members in basic medicine and matching them by blood type are among the ideas to ensure crises are manageable.

The Euroanaesthesia congress in Geneva, Switzerland, heard how lessons from expeditions to extreme environments on earth would have to be applied if crews set off for the Moon or Mars.

3D printers could also be used to create equipment as it was needed, according to Dr Matthieu Komorowski, of Charing Cross Hospital, London, UK.

Crews would also have to be ready to make decisions about whether an illness or injury was treatable, he said.

He said: "In remote environments, medical and surgical conditions with a low probability of success that also require using vast quantities of consumables are often not attempted.

"Similarly, during future space exploration missions, the crew must prepare for non-survivable illnesses or injuries that will exceed their limited treatment capability."

The conference also heard about the difficulties of performing CPR in low gravity environments.

Professor Jochen Hinkelbein, of the University Hospital of Cologne, Cologne, Germany, told the conference the most effective technique was the "handstand". In this technique, the person doing the CPR braces their feet against the ceiling, allowing them to apply pressure to the patient on the floor.

A second technique, known as the Evetts-Russamo method, used when the handstand is not possible, involves the person doing the CPR wrapping their legs around the patient."

Professor Hinkelbein said: "In the context of future space exploration, the longer duration of missions, and the consecutively higher risk of an incident requiring resuscitation increase the importance of microgravity-appropriate medical techniques."

* Professor Hinkelbein also reported on new guidelines for dealing with cardiac arrest in-flight.

These call for regular crew training and two-person CPR to be used. They also support the use of an announcement to identify any doctors or others with CPR skills.

The guidelines also call for all planes to have automated external defibrillators.

He said: "This is the first guideline providing specific treatment recommendations for in-flight medical emergencies during commercial air travel.

"This is of major importance to recommend proper actions and procedures since the airplane environment as well as equipment will be significantly different to what can be provided for medical emergencies on the ground."

Tags: A&E | General Health | Heart Health | Traveller Health

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