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Post-Katrina summer season brings health concerns

Mississippi Gulf Coast — Along with the usual precautions advised for staying well this summer, healthcare professionals continue to caution residents and visitors here to watch out for Hurricane Katrina-related illnesses.

This year the usual blistering heat is accompanied by mold, mildew, dirty water, piles of debris, rusty nails and who-knows-what substances blown in by the monstrous storm.
Donna Miller, director of case management at Garden Park Medical Center in Gulfport, said the hospital has seen more cases of skin infections and wounds since the hurricane.

“There have been more construction-type injuries, as you might expect,” she said. “We’ve seen more wounds and spider bites than usual and there have been more respiratory issues, probably due to mold from storm damage.”

Another Garden Park employee, Donna Sharp, says the biggest infection control issue they’ve seen has been mold, either breathing it in or getting it into wounds and causing infections.

“The mold threat and accidents from construction projects will remain while people continue to rebuild the Coast,” Sharp, infection control nurse, said. “Workers need to take the proper precautions.”

Good advice

Basic cleanliness is part of staying well in these post-Katrina days too. “Always wash your hands and keep your environment as clean as possible,” Sharp said.

The waters near the coastal sand beaches have not been cleared of storm debris and remain closed. Warm coastal waters always carry the threat of vibrio vulnificus, a bacterial disease, in the summer. People with underlying illness, such as liver disease or a compromised immune system, are at risk of contacting this bacterium through open wounds exposed to seawater or by eating raw or undercooked seafood. There is no evidence of person-to-person transmission.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, seven people in the area affected by Hurricane Katrina became ill with the disease and four died. The bacteria cause a skin infection that leads to acute illness with a rapid decline in health following exposure.

Several sections of beach are open, and for some people the pleasures of summer include walks on the beach. Dr. Randall Fellman with Singing River Hospital’s Wound Care Center wants to educate diabetics on how to take good care of their feet all year and especially in the summer.

“Do not go barefoot anywhere, especially on the beaches,” he says. “Going barefoot anywhere puts you at greater risk of an injury, and so does wearing sandals or flip-flops.”

Dr. David Dugger, a Singing River Hospital System pediatrician, recommends healthy outdoor activities for parents and children but urges proper precautions that include applying sunscreen and insect repellent.

Blood supply

Another critical health issue for summer is a short supply of blood. Pat Warfield, a medical technologist with The Blood Center in Pascagoula, says the blood supplier relies a lot on school blood drives in the winter. Also, people are traveling more in the summer and there are more accidents.

“We’re out there trying to keep blood on the shelves,” she said. “Medical science has come so far, but it can’t manufacture blood. Three lives are saved with every pint of donated blood, and every three seconds someone in the United States needs blood.”

With a home base in New Orleans, The Blood Center in Pascagoula supplies blood to all of Jackson County, Biloxi Regional Hospital and Highland Community Hospital in Picayune. Hurricane Katrina made a big impact on the supply of blood at first because the New Orleans center was out of business and the hospitals in Mississippi it supplies did not shut down. Warfield said the supplier has recovered and is working hard to meet the summer demand for blood.

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.

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