As hurricane season begins, health officials prepare for potential disease outbreaks

Source(s)
Contagion

By Jared Kaltwasser

As the Atlantic hurricane season kicks into high gear in June, lawmakers in Washington are still arguing over exactly how much disaster relief funding to send to regions hit by hurricanes last year, and even 2 years ago, in the case of Puerto Rico.

If the relief legislation is eventually approved, the money will largely be used to help businesses, homeowners, and utilities repair and rebuild. However, public health officials say state and local governments also need to pay close attention to another potential consequence of natural disasters: infectious disease outbreaks.

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[World Health Organization’s John T. Watson, MBBS, MSc,] said overcrowding as a result of displacement can create health concerns. He noted that when displaced individuals are forced to live together in large shelters, the risk of outbreaks of diseases like measles increases.

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Acute respiratory infections can also become a major problem in overcrowded areas, he said, particularly in young children. A 1998 hurricane in Nicaragua, for example, resulted in a fourfold increase in the number of cases of acute respiratory infection in the affected area.

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One tool the government uses to contain outbreaks is the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) of vaccines, medications, medical devices, and other equipment. The stockpile was first created in 1999, according to 2018 testimony from Stephen C. Redd, MD, who heads the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC’s) Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response.

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