Validating Signs and Symptoms From An Actual Mass Casualty Incident to Characterize An Irritant Gas Syndrome Agent (IGSA) Exposure: A First Step in The Development of a Novel IGSA Triage Algorithm

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Chemical exposures can pose a significant threat to life. Rapid assessment by first responders/emergency nurses is required to reduce death and disability. Currently, no informatics tools for irritant gas syndrome agents (IGSA) exposures exist to process victims efficiently, continuously monitor for latent signs/symptoms, or make triage recommendations. This study describes the first step in developing ED informatics tools for chemical incidents: validation of signs/symptoms that characterize an IGSA syndrome.


Data abstracted from 146 patients treated for chlorine exposure in one emergency department during a 2005 train derailment and 152 patients not exposed to chlorine (a comparison group) were mapped to 93 possible signs/symptoms within 2 tools (WISER and CHEMM-IST) designed to assist emergency responders/emergency nurses with managing hazardous material exposures. Inferential statistics (χ2/Fisher's exact test) and diagnostics tests were used to examine mapped signs/symptoms of persons who were and were not exposed to chlorine.


Three clusters of signs/symptoms are statistically associated with an IGSA syndrome (P < .01): respiratory (shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing, and choking); chest discomfort (tightness, pain, and burning), and eye, nose and/or throat (pain, irritation, and burning). The syndrome requires the presence of signs/symptoms from at least 2 of these clusters. The latency period must also be considered for exposed/potentially exposed persons.


This study uses actual patient data from a chemical incident to characterize and validate signs/symptoms of an IGSA syndrome. Validating signs/symptoms is the first step in developing new ED informatics tools with the potential to revolutionize the process by which emergency nurses manage triage victims of chemical incidents.

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