A study conducted by the Department of Health and Hospitals, Office of Public Health shows dust and sediment from Hurricane Katrina did not cause an increase in severe respiratory problems for people living in the Greater New Orleans area.
A team of state epidemiologists and medical staff from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tracked more than 50,000 emergency room visits in the area from October 2005 through March 2006, and also studied patient visits to area clinics and medical triage sites. The study looked for patients seeking treatment for medical conditions such as cough, sinus drip, sneezing, wheezing, chest congestion or sore throat.
“The results of our study show that, contrary to some perceptions, there was no significant increase in respiratory conditions among people returning to the New Orleans area that could be linked to the hurricane,” said State Epidemiologist Dr. Raoult Ratard. “The rates of respiratory illness occurring here are not different from the rates of these illnesses occurring in other parts of the state and the country.”
The study did show that people with a history of conditions such as asthma or seasonal allergies were more likely to experience symptoms such as coughing or wheezing because of exposure to dust and mold.
“We know people with chronic sinus or respiratory symptoms would be more affected by these conditions. As a result, we consistently made statements and issued information advising these people that they should avoid spending extended periods of time in moldy indoor conditions and should take the appropriate precautions when cleaning their homes,” Ratard said.
The study was conducted after some media outlets issued unconfirmed reports of an increase in colds, cough and other respiratory conditions among residents returning to the area, which they attributed to the hurricane and dubbed “Katrina Cough.” However, the numbers from this study do not substantiate these reports.
“There is no such thing as a single condition such as ‘Katrina Cough’ that would be different from the bacterial and viral respiratory conditions we would expect to see at that time of year,” Dr. Ratard said. “Also, the state has an electronic disease-tracking system in place that was expanded after the hurricane. This system monitors patient visits and alerts the appropriate medical officials immediately if a cluster of diseases occurs. No such outbreak occurred because of Hurricane Katrina.”