Wednesday, April 16, 2014
FAIRFIELD-SUISUN, CALIFORNIA
99 CENTS

A year adrift on the Pacific? A medical Q and A

By
From page A11 | February 07, 2014 | 1 Comment

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — The story of a Salvadoran fisherman who says he survived more than a year adrift on the Pacific Ocean raises many medical questions. The Associated Press spoke with Claude Piantadosi, a professor of medicine at Duke University and author of the book “The Biology of Human Survival,” to find out what is physically possible and for his view on the tale of Jose Salvador Alvarenga. This is an edited version of the interview:

Q: How long can a human survive without any water, or without any food?

A: The average is about 100 hours (approximately four days) without water and about five or six weeks without food. You can survive much longer with just a little food, although you’ll lose weight and run into vitamin deficiency problems. So it would have been vital for Alvarenga to have collected both food and water during his journey. The Pacific’s regular squalls would have provided some rainwater that he could have scooped from the bottom of his boat.

Q: How important is shade?

A: Absolutely critical. You get significantly warmer in direct sunlight and sweat more. The pictures of the boat show a fiberglass box in the middle which he could have sheltered in, and any type of canvas would have helped keep him out of the sun.

Q: Alvarenga described catching turtles, fish and birds with his hands and eating them. Is that plausible?

A: Over time, the underside of the boat would have become its own ecosystem as barnacles, seaweed and jellyfish collected there, which in turn attracts other creatures. How often can you grab a turtle or catch a fish with your bare hands? I don’t know. Bird blood is no more salty than human blood, so would have provided some hydration.

Q: Without fruit and vegetables, wouldn’t he have developed scurvy?

A: Actually, unlike humans, birds and turtles make their own vitamin C, so fresh meat from those creatures, especially the livers, would provide sufficient vitamin C to prevent scurvy. British sailors used to get scurvy because they ate preserved meat which had oxidized and lost its vitamin C.

Q: Wouldn’t he get skin sores from all the water?

A: He’d need to keep mopping himself off and stay dry to avoid that. People on life rafts, or say a piece of floating wood, can develop real problems with macerated skin. Staying out of the water is a huge advantage.

Q: There’s some suggestion that Alvarenga was a large man before he left. Would being overweight provide an advantage?

A: It would be a significant advantage. He could live off his own body fat and muscle for a long time, so long as he was able to get some water, vitamins, micronutrients and a little protein.

Q: Didn’t he look too healthy, even a little bloated, when he arrived?

A: The appearances of malnutrition can manifest differently depending on how short you are on calories or protein. Some underfed children in Africa look like stick figures, others get swollen. It’s only in end stage starvation that people get that really emaciated appearance.

Q: Alvarenga seemed to give confused and contradictory answers to authorities. What kind of psychological effects would such a journey have?

A: I’m not an expert in psychiatry, but we all have the feature of resilience. It can be trained or even learned on the fly. For instance, soldiers learn to deal with combat horrors. Presumably he was out on the ocean every day as a fisherman before he went missing, so he would have been familiar with the environment and with adapting his behavior to the elements.

If he had nutritional deficiencies, he may have developed some dementia or other syndromes which compromised his mental state. I’m not surprised that some of the answers he gave were a bit off and he wasn’t able to remember things.

Q: How long would it take to recover from a voyage like this?

A: Hydration can be restored in just a day or two. Re-feeding can be tricky after a long period of starvation, as the body can lose the ability to absorb nutrients. Muscle rehabilitation and physical therapy can take several weeks.

Q: Bottom line — is Alvarenga’s story plausible?

A: Yes. It’s unusual to say the least. But reports out of Mexico indicate he did go missing in late 2012. As we have gotten more information, it’s probably likely that he did survive at sea for 13 months.

The Associated Press

The Associated Press

LEAVE A COMMENT

Discussion | 1 comment

The Daily Republic does not necessarily condone the comments here, nor does it review every post. Read our full policy

.

Solano News

 
 
 
Solano Jews gather for start of Passover

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A3 | Gallery

 
 
Suisun police ID shooting victim

By Ian Thompson | From Page: A3, 6 Comments

 
County discusses consolidated dispatch

By Barry Eberling | From Page: A4

Miner Slough Bridge to see repairs

By Barry Eberling | From Page: A4

 
Easter hunt set for Mare Island

By Barry Eberling | From Page: A5

 
‘Heaven is for Real’ opens Wednesday

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: B5

 
 
Fiesta Days pageant organizers seek contestants

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A5

Coakley joins Solano fair board

By Barry Eberling | From Page: A6

 
Crews make quick work of vehicle fire

By Glen Faison | From Page: A6, 6 Comments | Gallery

 
Paper Clover Campaign supports Solano County 4-H

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A6

 
Hundreds flock to Krispy Kreme as it opens doors

By Susan Winlow | From Page: B9, 1 Comment | Gallery

 
County to honor Solano educators

By Barry Eberling | From Page: A14, 1 Comment

.

US / World

Officials: Huge San Francisco blaze was accidental

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

 
‘Shrimp Boy’ pleads not guilty in corruption case

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10, 1 Comment

Solemn tributes mark Boston Marathon bombing

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10, 1 Comment | Gallery

 
Immigration activists urge Obama to act boldly

By The Associated Press | From Page: A11

First women move into Army platoon artillery jobs

By The Associated Press | From Page: A14

 
Final deadline arrives for health exchange sign-up

By The Associated Press | From Page: A14

New LA newspaper embraces print in digital world

By The Associated Press | From Page: A14

 
Congress is giving states the transportation blues

By The Associated Press | From Page: A14, 2 Comments

Police: Suspects in killings wore GPS devices

By The Associated Press | From Page: A14, 1 Comment

 
DNA alternative to Pap smear sparks medical debate

By The Associated Press | From Page: A14

Robot sub returns to water after 1st try cut short

By The Associated Press | From Page: A14

 
Supremacist faces murder charges in Kansas deaths

By The Associated Press | From Page: A14

Ukraine: Military secures airport from attack

By The Associated Press | From Page: A14

 
Democrats have outside money advantage – for now

By The Associated Press | From Page: A14, 3 Comments

Hamas praises deadly West Bank shooting

By The Associated Press | From Page: A15

 
2 dead after ferry sinks off SKorean coast

By The Associated Press | From Page: A15

.

Opinion

Oh, for the days of Dr. Welby

By Dan K. Thomasson | From Page: A13, 13 Comments

 
Poor Judgement in Flight 370 column

By Letter to the Editor | From Page: A13, 1 Comment

 
Senseless babble that hurts

By Letter to the Editor | From Page: A13, 2 Comments

Expand Red Top Road

By Letter to the Editor | From Page: A13, 2 Comments

 
Editorial cartoons for April 16, 2014

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A13

 
.

Living

Today in History for April 16, 2014

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

 
Community Calendar: April 16, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A2

What love gives you

By Barton Goldsmith | From Page: A2

 
Saving carrots from their usual sugary Easter fate

By Sara Moulton | From Page: B6

Sweet pairings for grown-up Easter treats

By The Associated Press | From Page: B6

 
A matzo ball soup fit for a weeknight dinner

By The Associated Press | From Page: B6

My husband still pays his 45-year-old unemployed son’s bills

By Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar | From Page: B7

 
Horoscopes for April 16, 2014

By Holiday Mathis | From Page: B7

.

Entertainment

Boston Globe wins Pulitzer for bombing coverage

By The Associated Press | From Page: B5

 
Lindsay Lohan’s mom pleads guilty to DWI in NY

By The Associated Press | From Page: B5

Strahan’s ‘GMA’ side job confirmed with his visit

By The Associated Press | From Page: B5

 
TVGrid

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A11

.

Sports

Cal hires Tennessee’s Cuonzo Martin as coach

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

 
Warriors trying to move on without Andrew Bogut

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

Sharks’ Torres uncertain for playoff opener

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

 
Indians shut out Mustangs

By Marcus Lomtong | From Page: B1, 1 Comment | Gallery

Ex-Minnesota State, Mankato coach returning to job

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Panthers jump Sabres to win NHL draft lottery

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

More former players sue NHL regarding concussions

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
49ers sign WR Brandon Lloyd to 1-year deal

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

MLB marks 67th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s debut

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
.

Business

Twitter buys data analytics partner Gnip

By The Associated Press | From Page: A14

 
Yellen signals more aggressive stance toward banks

By The Associated Press | From Page: A14

.

Obituaries

Carolyn McClelland

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

 
Evonne Medina

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4, 1 Comment

.

Comics

For Better or Worse

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Beetle Bailey

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Zits

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Rose is Rose

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Sally Forth

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
B.C.

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Baldo

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Baby Blues

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Dilbert

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Frank and Ernest

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Get Fuzzy

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Blondie

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Garfield

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Peanuts

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Pickles

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Wizard of Id

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Sudoku

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7

 
Bridge

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7

Cryptoquote

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7

 
Word Sleuth

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7

Crossword

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7