Federal Health Officials Monitor Potential for Disease Outbreaks After Hurricane Katrina
HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt said during a teleconference on Tuesday that although security risks and chaotic conditions prevented federal aid from reaching New Orleans last week, federal health officials now are present in all major shelters to help local medical teams provide health care services to evacuees, the Los Angeles Times reports.
According to Leavitt, a 50-computer center has been set up in Houston to create medical records for evacuees. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is setting up more than 1,000 emergency hospital beds in addition to the 1,000 functional beds still being used in the New Orleans area.
"We are one week out, and so far, so good," Leavitt said, adding that the number of people coming into acute-care centers with injuries and illnesses has begun to decline (Piller, Los Angeles Times, 9/7). Leavitt added that a task force was created this week "to monitor public health ... and begin to make judgments about when New Orleans will be safe to inhabit" (Graham, Chicago Tribune, 9/7).
CDC has sent 140 infection-control specialists to the area who are instructing evacuees about the importance of hand washing and providing hand sanitizers. CDC specialists also are vaccinating children for measles and other childhood diseases and giving adults flu vaccines and tetanus shots (Los Angeles Times, 9/7).
The Washington Times reports that the U.S. has declined some offers by foreign nations to send doctors and nurses to the area. State Department spokesperson Sean McCormack said, "There's been a robust response from the American medical community in terms of medical supplies, in terms of medical professionals, doctors, nurses, as well as public health officials."
A senior official from the department added, "We have the people we need right now, and we have more in the pipeline" (Kralev, Washington Times, 9/7).
Federal health officials on Tuesday said they are investigating four deaths that might have resulted from wounds infected by the waterborne bacteria Vibrio vulnificus -- a cholera-like bacteria, according to CDC spokesperson Tom Skinner (Neergaard, AP/Long Island Newsday, 9/6). Health officials said that thus far there have been no outbreaks of diseases such as typhoid or dysentery.
Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco (D) said "contamination and disease" is her "next big worry" (Farragher/Smith, Boston Globe, 9/7).
CDC Director Julie Gerberding said outbreaks of diseases such as cholera or typhoid are unlikely because those diseases are not common in the U.S. She added, "What we are concerned about are the things that could more likely persist in water in this society. That would include E. coli, diarrhea and potentially some other infectious diseases."
Other concerns include outbreaks of West Nile virus, dengue fever or malaria (Rockoff, Baltimore Sun, 9/7). Officials also worry that toxic chemicals released into the floodwaters could present additional medical challenges (AP/Long Island Newsday, 9/6).
Mike McDaniel, secretary of the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality, said, "There is a disease risk. If you can avoid getting in the water, that is the best choice. If you have to get in the water, disinfect" (Zeranski, Bloomberg/Philadelphia Inquirer, 9/7).
CDC is investigating reports of a potential outbreak of norovirus, several cases of diarrhea in Mississippi and a potential case of tuberculosis (Chicago Tribune, 9/7).
The California Nurses Association on Tuesday sent 22 nurses to Stone County Hospital in Wiggins, Miss., to help staff there deal with the influx of patients seeking medical care after Hurricane Katrina, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. CNA nurses on Wednesday also were sent to Lake Charles, La., and Houston to provide medical assistance.
Jan Emerson, spokesperson for the California Hospital Association, said 40 hospitals in the state have agreed to send teams of 100 volunteer doctors, nurses and staff members to mobile hospital units maintained by the federal government.
Emerson said the teams likely will be called up in the coming months, as the federal government is first using help from volunteers closer to the affected areas (St. John, San Francisco Chronicle, 9/7).
Several newspapers recently published articles addressing hospital and nursing home responses to the hurricane. Summaries appear below.
AP/Macon Telegraph, "Hospitals Bracing for Hurricane Victims": The AP/Telegraph examines the challenges associated with offering patients who have chronic diseases "timely information" after losing medications or missing treatments for a prolonged period of time (Bluestein, AP/Macon Telegraph, 9/6).
New York Times, "In Nursing Home, a Fight Lost to Rising Waters": The Times examines St. Rita's nursing home and looks at how an estimated 32 of 60 residents died after they were not evacuated (Harris, New York Times, 9/7).
Wall Street Journal, "Planning and Private Resources at the Hospital Giant HCA Made Rescue Operation Possible": The Journal examines HCA's efforts to hire 20 helicopters to airlift 200 patients and 1,200 staff members out of New Orleans (Naik, Wall Street Journal, 9/7).
- Wall Street Journal, "On Wheels and in the Air, Rushing Medical Care to Victims": The Journal also examines a mobile treatment center -- Carolinas MED-1 -- that comprises a 22-vehicle convoy, four intensive care beds, a digital X-ray machine and other features. The center is providing care to Mississippians affected by the hurricane (Winslow, Wall Street Journal, 9/7).
"The World" -- a coproduction of BBC World Service, PRI and WGBH Boston -- on Tuesday included an interview with Fernando Guerra, director of the metropolitan health district in San Antonio, who has been overseeing health care services for the evacuee population arriving in the city. Guerra discussed the issue of providing health care to evacuees who are also immigrants to the U.S. (Mullins, "The World," PRI, 9/6). The complete segment is available online in Windows Media.This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.