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Doctor warns against using iPods in a lightning storm

Jason Bunch, 18, holds his lightning-burned shoe and his mother Kelly Risheill his burned shirt at their Castle Rock, Colo., home. Bunch was wearing the shoe and shirt and an iPod when he was struck by lightning last July. Jason Bunch, 18, holds his lightning-burned shoe and his mother Kelly Risheill his burned shirt at their Castle Rock, Colo., home. Bunch was wearing the shoe and shirt and an iPod when he was struck by lightning last July. (Ed Andrieski/Associated Press)

NEW YORK -- Listen to an iPod during a storm and you may get more than electrifying tunes.

A Canadian jogger suffered wishbone-shaped chest and neck burns, ruptured eardrums, and a broken jaw when lightning traveled through his music player's wires. Last summer, a Colorado teen was hurt when lightning struck nearby as he was listening to his iPod while mowing the lawn.

Emergency physicians report treating other patients with burns from freak accidents while using personal electronic devices such as beepers, Walkman players, and laptop computers outdoors during storms.

Michael Utley, a former stockbroker from West Yarmouth, Mass., who survived being struck by lightning while golfing, has tracked 13 cases since 2004 of people hit while talking on cell phones. They are described on his website, struckbylightning.org.

Contrary to some urban legends and media reports, electronic devices don't attract lightning the way a tall tree or a lightning rod does.

"It's going to hit where it's going to hit, but once it contacts metal, the metal conducts the electricity," said Dr. Mary Ann Cooper of the American College of Emergency Physicians .

When lightning jumps from a nearby object to a person, it often flashes over the skin. But metal in electronic devices -- or metal jewelry or coins in a pocket -- can cause contact burns and exacerbate the harm.

A spokeswoman for Apple Inc., the maker of iPods, declined to comment. Packaging for iPods and some other music players do include warnings against using them in the rain.

Lightning strikes can occur even if a storm is many miles away, so lightning safety experts have been pushing the slogan "When thunder roars, go indoors," said Cooper.

Jason Bunch, 18, said it wasn't even raining last July, but there was a storm off in the distance. Lightning struck a nearby tree, shot off, and hit him.

Bunch, who was listening to Metallica while mowing the grass at his home in Castle Rock, Colo., still has mild hearing damage in both ears, despite two reconstructive surgeries to repair ruptured eardrums. He had burns from the earphone wires on the sides of his face, a nasty burn on his hip where the iPod had been in a pocket and "a bad line up the side of my body," even though the iPod cord was outside his shirt.

The Canadian jogger suffered worse injuries, a report in this week's The New England Journal of Medicine said.

The man, a 39-year-old dentist from the Vancouver area, was listening to an iPod while jogging in a thunderstorm when lightning hit a nearby tree and jumped to his body. The strike threw the man about 8 feet and caused second-degree burns on his chest and left leg.

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