Contact: Barbara Hyde
“Deadly diseases, such as typhoid or cholera, are unlikely to break out after hurricanes and floods in areas where these diseases do not already naturally occur,” says Ruth Berkelman, MD, Chair of the Public and Scientific Affairs Board of the American Society for Microbiology. “The greatest threats to the people in the affected areas are going to be from diseases that were already there.”
Dr. Berkelman is the Rollins Professor and Director of the Center for Public Health Preparedness and Research at the Rollins School of Public Health at
Common infectious disease problems in
Vibrio vunificus can also cause serious infections, either wound infections or blood poisoning (septicemia); V. vulnificus is a bacterium that is normally present in
Another concern is diarrhea and gastrointestinal illnesses from the flood waters. Short bouts of diarrhea and upset stomachs sometimes occur after natural disasters and can be caused by sewage contamination of the water. Although at high levels in floodwaters, the E. coli found in
“At this point in time, I think it is just common sense to continue drinking only bottled water unless authorities have tested the water now being piped into some facilities and have declared it safe to drink,” says Berkelman. “To also prevent risk of infection, people should practice basic hygiene, frequently washing their hands with soap and clean water or disinfecting hands with an alcohol-based hand cleaner. Individuals should not eat food that has been exposed to flood waters or that has not been properly refrigerated.”
One common misperception is that the body of a person who died as the result of the hurricane and is still in the city poses a risk of infection.
“Decaying bodies pose very little risk for major disease outbreaks,” says Berkelman. Furthermore, mosquitoes do not spread disease by feeding on dead bodies. There is, however, a risk of mosquito-borne diseases such as
Over the long term, mold may also pose a threat. Mold growth is an indicator of excess moisture, and much will need to be done to dry out
For more information on the potential health effects from Hurricane Katrina and what can be done about them, visit the CDC website at http://www.bt.cdc.gov/disasters/hurricanes/katrina.asp.
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