Disease, In the News ,

The Aftermath of a Hurricane– public health concerns after a storm

Hurricane Harvey hit Texas hard last week. CNN says it was the strongest hurricane since Charlie hit the Southeast in 2004 (they have also shared some striking images of the damages and flooding if you want to click that link). New sources today have the current casualty total at least 70. As entire communities of people regather and begin to rebuild their lives, there are concerns to consider beyond immediate damage. Times of chaos, grief, and mass movement are ripe for poor health conditions. What health problems do hurricanes leave behind?

NPR interviewed Dr. Ruth Berggren, an infectious disease specialist who has had a lot of experience treating patients post-natural disasters. After all, she was a physician in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, and has been dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey this week. She talks about violence, mental health, and infectious diseases issues as being of particular concern in the immediate aftermath of such a storm.

According to the New York Post, Harvey sunk the crest of the Earth by about 0.75 inches! Combine that heavy water burden with people living in close proximity in emergency shelters in less than ideal hygienic conditions, and you can see why the IDSA (Infectious Diseases Society of America) is concerned with the spread of viruses. In particular, they are worried about infections that spread quickly like norovirus, and those that might affect unvaccinated populations who now have more exposure to pathogens. This is especially concerning as mosquitoes, temporarily scared off by the storm, come back to stagnant water, possibly carrying diseases with them. Access to medications to treat chronic illnesses is also expected to be more difficult. For some populations, like those living with HIV, it’s really important not to disrupt treatment. Finally going home to mold and disarray increases the likelihood of asthma and respiratory tract illnesses.

The Carribean Islands, currently facing similar conditions as Hurricane Irma unfolds, are witnessing similar public health crises.

As we hope for a quick and wholesome recovery to those affected by these storms, consider donating if you can—this NYT article links to some organizations, both local and national, that are gathering funds.