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The Psychological Toll of the Boston Marathon Blasts

Alex Trautwig/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- American athletes and health experts are wondering whether races, ballgames and public sporting events will ever feel safe again.

The bomb blasts that injured more than 170 people and killed three at the Boston Marathon on Monday caused horrific injuries among runners and fans lining the final stretch of the famous run, but experts say the psychological wounds extend far beyond the 26-mile course.

"The pictures penetrate," said Dr. Arieh Shalev, professor of psychiatry at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City, referring to images of the bloody aftermath that spread like wildfire on social media. "They bypass all our filters, and we revisit them as we hug our kids and hope this will never happen again."

For Michael Derda, 36, who worked as a medic at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, the images were all too real.

"They brought it all back," he said, recalling the blast at Centennial Olympic Park that killed two people and wounded 111 more. Running toward the explosion as others fled, Derda helped rescue people who had nails, metal shards and glass embedded in deep, disabling wounds. "It was chaos," he said.

Experts say it's normal for people to feel anxious, afraid and angry, even if they were miles from the marathon's finish line.

"The greatest fear of all is the fear of the unknown," said Dr. George Everly, associate professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. "We can cope with just about anything, but we need to know what it is."

Bostonians showed their colors as they rushed to help the wounded Monday, and Everly expects to see that resiliency rise in the weeks to come as information about the attack comes to light.

Across the country, though, city centers and stadiums are on high alert for suspicious activity and packages.

"We'll all be apprehensive until we find out a little bit more about who did this and why," said Everly. "And we should reassure people that it's O.K. to have certain fears. It's normal. You'd be totally irrational if you didn't."

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

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