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Environmental Public Health Impacts of Disasters: Hurricane Katrina - Workshop Summary
and the department together with CDC launched a full-fledged investigation of those cases. Close analysis suggested that some members of a disaster medical assistance team had viral infections that spread from the group. Precautionary measures such as washing hands were taken, and after the intervention the rates declined, said Stephens.
Surveillance on unintentional injuries, such as motor vehicle crashes, animal bites, and bee stings, was also conducted. It showed that as the floodwaters receded and the disaster-affected areas were cleaned up, most of the threats, such as debris on streets, dark streets, and vermin living in brush piles, slowly resolved themselves.
Questions and Challenges for the New Orleans Health Department
The New Orleans Health Department still has a number of questions that need to be answered, said Stephens.
What is the long-term risk associated with exposure?
What specific monitoring methodologies should be used?
What should be monitored, what are the biomarkers, and how often should monitoring occur?
What precautions should be taken to eliminate risks and adverse effects? If the risks cannot be eliminated, how can their effects be reduced?
What are the appropriate communication strategies and messages?
The last question is very important because public health officers need to reassure the public. False reassurance would serve no purpose and could impede the recovery, cautioned Stephens.
In conclusion, Stephens noted that unintentional injuries seemed to be the predominant problem in New Orleans, and no evidence of infectious disease outbreaks was found. He also noted that protective measures should be taken and that the New Orleans Health Department will continue to monitor data.