It's easy to see the physical destruction that Hurricane Isaac left behind: Eight deaths and at least 13,000 damaged homes in Louisiana. But what about the health consequences that linger years after the waters recede? Because storm-related flooding can take weeks to subside, victims may be exposed to disease-carrying microbes that thrive in the hurricane's damp aftermath and may also experience the emotional trauma of seeing their homes and neighborhoods submerged. Hurricane Katrina in 2005 provided a look at the health challenges Isaac's victims can expect. Even then, say experts, most survivors, with the help of medical and psychological support, were able to rely on natural coping mechanisms to overcome their trauma.
Isaac could worsen an already alarming outbreak of West Nile in the U.S.: 1,590 cases of the mosquito-borne disease have been reported this year. Flooding could create more fertile pools where the insects can breed. After other floods, mosquitoes have spread dengue and malaria.
Allergies and asthma
Thanks to its low-lying locale, New Orleans has an above-average mold count--which is bound to get worse in waterlogged homes and buildings and thereby exacerbate allergy and asthma symptoms. Pollen counts also go up after heavy rains, causing symptoms from sneezing to wheezing and runny noses.
Stress, anxiety and fear can impair survivors' judgment in the immediate aftermath of a storm, while anger over their loss and frustration over rebuilding their lives may trigger substance abuse, posttraumatic stress disorder, depression and thoughts of suicide.
Around the world, outbreaks of cholera and diarrheal diseases are common after natural disasters because of contaminated drinking water and disrupted sewage systems. (Cases aren't as widely reported in the U.S.) But symptoms dissipate when clean water and sanitation services are restored.
Genetic switches estimated to exist in areas of the human genome previously thought to be junk DNA. Learning how to control them could help researchers turn certain genes on or off in patients to treat disease
Overpaying for Organic?
There is an unspoken message on all organic labels, at least as most consumers read them: Organic means good for the environment and good for you as well. But according to new data from Stanford University, the higher price some people are willing to pay for this healthfulness--up to twice as much--isn't worth it. Organic fruit, vegetables and meat, the report says, contain no more vitamins or nutrients than conventional varieties, and they are no less likely to be contaminated with microbes like E. coli and salmonella. Organic produce and meat tend to contain fewer pesticides, though.
The researchers note, however, that there is a wide variety of organic and conventional farming methods, so products from specific farms may contain higher amounts of certain nutrients.
HEALTH AFTERSHOCKS OF HURRICANE KATRINA
Increase in West Nile cases (three weeks poststorm vs. three weeks prestorm)