CDC: Helmets during tornadoes might help, but no substitute for shelter


(CBS News) During a tornado, the most common cause of death is a head injury. Could a helmet possibly help?

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Researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham say it can. When a tornado ripped through Alabama on April 27, 2011, at least 11 of the 21 fatalities resulted from head and neck injuries. That led researchers to recommended in a January 2012 commentary, "the use of any helmet, or head covering made of a hard material and worn to protect the head from injury, stored in an easily and readily accessible location in the home, workplace or vehicle for which one of its purposes is to be worn in the event of or threat of tornadic activity."

On Thursday the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention weighed in on the issue with a statement on its website.

"We understand that people who have seen the tragedy that tornadoes can impose are looking for any useful and effective ways to protect themselves," the CDC said. "We don't have research on the effectiveness of helmet use to prevent head injuries during a tornado, but we do know that head injuries are common causes of death during tornadoes, and we have long made the recommendation that people try to protect their heads."

In other words, people may decide if they want to use a helmet to protect their heads. However the CDC warns that there might not be much time to react in an emergency, so people should have them readily accessible.

"Looking for a helmet in the few seconds before a tornado hits may delay you getting safely to shelter," the statement read. The CDC also emphasizes that a helmet is no substitution for finding shelter.

"This is very sensible advice," Dr. Mark Baker, an pediatric emergency physician at Children's of Alabama, told USA Today

Visit the CDC's Emergency Preparedness and Response website to find out more on how to stay safe during a tornado.