Beware of mobile phones in thunderstormsUsers risk being hit by lightning

23 June 2006

People should not use mobile phones outdoors during thunderstorms because of the risk of being struck by lightning, doctors have warned.

In today's British Medical Journal three doctors highlight the case of a 15-year-old girl struck by lightning while using her mobile phone in a large London park.

The teenager suffered a heart attack but was successfully resuscitated. However, a year later she was still in a wheelchair and suffering complex physical, cognitive and emotional problems.

Mobiles disrupt the 'flashover'

Usually if someone is struck by lightning, the high resistance of human skin results in lightning being conducted over the skin without entering the body. This is known as flashover and has a low death rate.

But conductive materials in contact with the skin such as liquids or metallic objects disrupt the flashover and result in internal injury with greater death rates.

Three other cases

The doctors said they have found three other cases reported in newspapers in China, Korea, and Malaysia.

'All these events resulted in death after the people were struck by lightning while using their mobile phones outdoors during storms,' they said.

'This rare phenomenon is a public health issue, and education is necessary to highlight the risk of using mobile phones outdoors during stormy weather to prevent future fatal consequences from lightning strike injuries related to mobile phones.'

'The Australian Lightning Protection Standard recommends that metallic objects, including cordless or mobile phones, should not be used (or carried) outdoors during a thunderstorm. We could not find any advice from British telecommunication companies.'