The number of children in the Gulf Coast region after Hurricane Katrina who complained of symptoms of bronchitis, pneumonia and other lower respiratory illnesses rose in the years after the storm, according to a 49-page CDC report released on Thursday, the Washington Post reports. CDC researchers developed the report based on an analysis of medical charts and interviews with 144 children ages two to 12 in Mississippi’s Hancock County who received treatment between August 2004 and August 2007 at the Hancock Medical Center and four physician clinics.
The report found the proportion of physician visits by children who displayed cold-like symptoms declined from 63% to 52%, while the rate of complaints of bronchitis-like symptoms rose from 22% to 31%. The report also found there were 414 total visits by the children to the five facilities in 2007 compared to 411 visits in 2004.
The study did not report data from 2006, the year after the storm, because there were severe community disruptions and damage to medical facilities in the state. A summary of the report stated, “Basic medical information systems in Hancock County were severely compromised … creating a particularly challenging environment for performing a retrospective investigation,” adding, “The nature and … effects resulting from these issues are unmeasured and remain unknown.”
The researchers noted that they could not determine the reasons or full validity of the study’s results due to several factors. Researchers did not know how many children lived in the county prior to the hurricane. In addition, the study included only children who experienced health problems before Katrina. Researchers also were unsure if the number of physician visits was affected by the announcement in February that travel trailers provided by the federal government to families who had been displaced by the hurricane had toxic levels of formaldehyde, which can cause respiratory and other health problems.
According to the Post, the study’s “limited conclusions did not resolve broader concerns raised by health officials and pediatricians, who previously reported heightened complaints of breathing problems among children on the Gulf Coast after Katrina.”
Michael McGeehin, director of the CDC unit that developed the report, said the results of the study do not apply to children living in travel trailers and homes along the Gulf Coast region. He said, “I don’t want this study generalized,” adding, “The numbers were very small.” Ed Thompson, a Mississippi state health officer, said, “The issue of what, if any, effects did the hurricane — and the changes that occurred in its aftermath — have on the children of the Gulf Coast is one that we remain very much interested in.” Thompson also noted, “People whose children were not part of the study can’t draw any conclusions, positive or negative, from it,” adding, “It did not answer whether exposure to indoor air contaminants, including formaldehyde, has any effect on health” (Hsu, Washington Post, 5/9).
In related news, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin last week urged residents living in the nearly 5,700 federally issued temporary travel trailers in the city to move out of them amid concerns for their health and the approaching hurricane season, the AP/Kansas City Star reports. Nagin said, “We need to get everybody out,” adding, “We need to find out if anybody’s health has been harmed and how do we deal with that, and find the housing that’s necessary so these people can get their lives together.”
Andrew Thomas, a spokesperson for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which provided the trailers, on Wednesday said that the agency will cooperate with parish officials and residents to determine their “long-term housing plan” and move people out of the trailers. However, Thomas said the agency is “not just going to take the trailer away because of a date on the calendar, if they’re making progress in getting back into their home” (Bohrer, AP/Kansas City Star, 5/7).
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