Medical Author: Melissa Conrad Stoppler, MD
Medical Editor: William C. Shiel, Jr, MD, FACP, FACR
Hurricane Katrina's devastation of parts of the U.S. Gulf Coast is the greatest natural disaster ever faced by the U.S. With tremendous loss of life and property, this catastrophe has resulted in serious and potentially life-threatening health and safety concerns.
In the aftermath of a hurricane or other natural disaster, health and safety dangers abound:
- Caring for those injured during the storm is a further burden on emergency facilities and hospitals who may have themselves sustained damage and may suffer from staff shortages (many people are unable to come to work) and inadequate food and water supplies.
- Flood water can be contaminated by fecal material and serve as a breeding ground for infectious agents of all types. Typhoid fever and cholera are examples of bacterial diseases caused by contaminated water.
- The lack of safe food and water supplies is compounded by the inability of relief vehicles to reach many areas.
- Mental health conditions such as depression, grief, anger, aggression, and potential increases in suicidal behavior can follow a disaster of this magnitude.
- Heat-related illnesses such as heat exhaustion or heat stroke can occur in those deprived of shelter from the oppressive summer heat and dehydrated from the lack of safe water to drink.
- An increase in mosquitos concentrated around flood waters constitutes a risk for mosquito-borne illnesses such as West Nile infection .
- Safety concerns include potential criminal and violent attacks against others perpetrated by individuals who have been rendered desperate and aggressive by their losses.
- Those who need acute medical care or medical services such as dialysis or chemotherapy may not be able to receive these needed services. People who need medication may not have access to pharmacies and/or medication.
If you are interested in helping the victims of this tragedy, please see the article "Katrina Hurricane Aftermath" , which provides a list of organizations who need your assistance in relief efforts.