Hurricane Katrina's devastation has taken a widespread toll on the physical and mental well-being of millions of Americans. The following health & safety information is provided for those who have been victims of the storm and its aftermath themselves, as well as for concerned citizens across the nation. Read here for the basics on health risks, preventive measures, and recent medical news. Also consult our list of Key Resources for more detailed information and opportunities to volunteer.
Although infectious diseases are a frightening prospect, widespread outbreaks of infectious disease after hurricanes are not common in the United States. Rare and deadly exotic diseases, such as cholera or typhoid, do not suddenly break out after hurricanes and floods in areas where such diseases do not naturally occur.
Communicable disease outbreaks of diarrhea and respiratory illness can occur when water and sewage systems are not working and personal hygiene is hard to maintain as a result of a disaster. However, no disease outbreaks have been reported as of September 8, 2005 in areas affected by Hurricane Katrina.
Points to Remember:
–Decaying bodies create very little risk for major disease outbreaks.
–Short bouts of diarrhea and upset stomach and colds or other breathing diseases sometimes occur in developed countries, such as the United States, after a natural disaster, particularly among large groups of people in a shelter.
–Communicable disease outbreaks can occur when sanitation and hygiene are compromised as a result of a disaster.
Basic hygiene measures like frequent hand washing or use of an alcohol hand gel, especially after using the restroom or changing diapers and before eating, can help prevent these diseases.
–Unless a disease is brought into a disaster area from elsewhere, any outbreaks that occur are almost always from diseases that were already in the disaster-affected area before the disaster struck.
Note: Because cholera and typhoid are not commonly found in the U.S. Gulf States area, it is very unlikely that they would occur after Hurricane Katrina.
–As has been the case in past hurricanes, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services quickly sets up tracking systems that monitor illnesses in hurricane-affected areas. In the unlikely event that a disease outbreak occurs, these systems provide an early warning that enables prompt public health response.