Web Zap*Germs Archive

August 31, 2005

Nawlins Flood Waters "A Murky Stew of Germs"

Broken New Orleans levee after Katrina
An AP story quoted some health pros regarding the danger posed by the New Orleans flood waters, calling the deluge "a murky stew of germs." The threat from dead bodies appears overblown, however.
Storm survivors, particularly in New Orleans where floodwaters remain, face a cauldron of infectious agents, public health experts said.

"You can think of floodwaters as diluted sewage," said Mark Sobsey, a professor of environmental microbiology at the University of North Carolina.

Whatever infections people carry go into sewage and can be expected to show up in floodwaters. That includes common diarrheal germs including hepatitis A and Norwalk virus.

"We are gravely concerned about the potential for cholera, typhoid and dehydrating diseases that could come as a result of the stagnant water and the conditions," said [Health and Human Services Secretary Michael] Leavitt.

However, officials at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other health experts said cholera and typhoid are not considered to be high risks in the area. CDC officials suggested Leavitt was simply mentioning examples of diseases that could arise from contaminated food and water.

Some experts said worries about catching illnesses from being near dead animals or human bodies are somewhat overblown.

"People who are alive can give you a whole lot more diseases than people who are dead," said Richard Garfield, a Columbia University professor of international clinical nursing who helped coordinate medical care in Indonesia after the tsunami.

Mosquito-borne diseases may start to emerge within days. West Nile virus and dengue fever are both potential risks following a situation like the one in coastal Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. Officials also cited carbon monoxide poisoning risks to people using generators and stoves.
The website of the New Orleans Times-Picayune continues to provide a wealth of detail and photos about conditions in the city, even though the paper's staff has been evacuated and hard-copy editions may not appear for weeks.

Here is a list of rescue and charitable organizations to which you can donate money to aid in the hurricane relief effort.


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