Hurricane Sandy was physically devastating, causing over 100 deaths and destroying the homes of thousands. Now that the storm has passed, officials are turning an eye toward the health risks that will be sprouting up. Issues like carbon monoxide poisoning, mold, waterborne diseases, hypothermia and shortages of medication can also take their toll on the victims of hurricanes.
Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
Carbon monoxide poisoning can be a serious threat after a hurricane has touched land. Because hurricanes will often cause or result in power outages, many people turn to portable generators to provide electricity to their homes, and charcoal grills as a means of preparing food. The exhaust from these items contains carbon monoxide, which is odorless and can be fatal. Though the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning is very real, it can be prevented by properly using generators and grills: They should never be used in an enclosed space, even if windows and doors are open.
Mold is another prevalent problem due to Sandy. Homes and buildings that have been flooded provide the perfect environment for mold to grow. Mold, if it isn’t removed promptly, can cause a number of respiratory and in some cases, even neurological problems. It can also cause an increased risk of asthma for children. Because of the cost of mold removal and clean up, many areas that were hit by the hurricane are not able to properly address the problem.
Contaminated water and waterborne diseases can be particularly hazardous after a hurricane, since they can contain hundreds of disease causing bacteria or viruses. This is especially problematic in countries where clean water is already hard to come by, like Haiti, which Hurricane Sandy hit before moving up to the U.S. coastline. The public waterways in Haiti are heavily relied on for drinking water, and with the flooding caused by Sandy, these waterways can easily become contaminated by sewage. Water-borne diseases like Cholera can also quickly break out. Hoboken, New Jersey, which reportedly received the most damage due to Sandy, has already been dealing with streets filled with contaminated flood waters, leaving thousands confined to their homes.
Hypothermia, Flu and Food Poisoning
Usually hurricanes happen when the weather is warmer. Hurricane Sandy, however, was such a late season storm that many people are finding themselves dealing with hypothermia, as temperatures drop and many remain without electricity to heat their homes. As a result, many people have taken to huddling together in various shelters in order to keep warm. Because of this closeness, there is an increased risk of flu transmission. Another risk is food poisoning. Due to the damage from the storm, supplies like fresh food may be limited. Some people may find themselves forced to eat food that sat in a refrigerator without power for too long, and end up with a case of food poisoning.
Hospitals and Medication
With the vast amount of deaths and injuries due to the hurricane itself, hospitals can quickly become crowded. Add in the casualties of other health risks from the hurricane, like the issues mentioned above, and hospitals may become overwhelmed with people and find their resources running low. Also, medication for chronic diseases can easily become low, and with limited supplies arriving, this can be a major concern for some.
Hurricanes cause much destruction, with their strong winds and heavy rains that result in floods and power outages. Though these risks are most commonly associated with hurricanes, other serious health problems, like the five mentioned above, quickly develop and take their toll.
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Denise Waters is a public health official and guest author at www.mphonline.org, a site with resources and reviews of top-rated online MPH degree programs.