A new study by the Department of Health shows there is little evidence to support recent reports of increased death and suicide rates after Hurricane Katrina. Instead, the study shows there may now be slight increases in suicides, fewer homicides than expected and slightly higher death rates in hospitals and nursing homes than before last year’s storm.

The study was conducted by Dr. Raoult Ratard, state epidemiologist with DHH’s Office of Public Health.

According to Ratard, because there is no reliable data on the population of New Orleans, it is impossible to determine an actual death rate. Therefore, he compared the total deaths of Orleans Parish residents living in Louisiana before and after the storm.

The study compared two six-month periods; Oct. 2004 to March 2005 with Oct. 2005 to March 2006. Data from the two timeframes showed there were 2,507 deaths in the earlier six-month span and 1,024 deaths in the months after Katrina. Ratard determined the ratio of “after Katrina deaths” to “before Katrina deaths” to be 0.41. This ratio was then compared to multiple population groups as well as to different causes of death to try and determine if there was a significant difference in the number of deaths due to these causes.

Ratard said the ratio of suicides is higher than expected.

“This could be the result of an absolute increase in the suicide death rate or it could be attributable to the population shift. In the absence of definite population data, an exact interpretation is not possible,” he explained.”

Ratard said there are several other conclusions that can be drawn from the study:

  • There seem to be lower than expected homicides in Orleans, although the decreased population may be responsible for this.
  • There seems to be higher than expected deaths in hospitals and nursing homes, although the shift in population may be responsible for this.
  • Overall, there is no significant change in death rates.