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Hurricane aftermath: Infectious disease threats from common, not exotic, diseases

In the wake of Katrina, the public health threats from infectious diseases in hurricane-devastated areas are more likely to come from milder, more common infections rather than exotic diseases. These common infections can often be prevented using simple hygiene measures and a little common sense.

"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 Emory University. She is a former Assistant Surgeon General of the United States and former deputy director of the CDC's National Center for Infectious Diseases (NCID).

Common infectious disease problems in New Orleans in the coming weeks are likely to be skin and soft-tissue infections, most likely from cuts, abrasions and wounds. The primary culprits will be Staphylococcus and Streptococcus bacteria, both of which can generally be treated with available antibiotics. Diseases caused by consumption of contaminated food or water as well as diseases caused by mosquitoes or other insect bites are also a threat.

Vibrio vunificus can also cause serious infections, either wound infections or blood poisoning (septicemia); V. vulnificus is a bacterium that is normally present in Gulf Coast waters and is usually contracted by eating tainted seafood. It is primarily a threat to people with weakened immune systems or liver dysfunction. The CDC has confirmed 15 infections with V. vulnificus, 3 of which were fatal. These cases have occurred in areas other than New Orleans where the water has greater salinity.


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Source:American Society for Microbiology


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