Hurricane Harvey Aftermath Runs Risk of Waterborne Disease Outbreak

BY ALLISON KOZICHAROW AND BERNICE BORN

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holera in Yemen today … and in Texas tomorrow?

 

The catastrophic flooding in Texas from Hurricane Harvey has caused death, destruction and displacement. The storm’s aftershock has produced contaminated and stagnant water and poor sanitation, conditions ideally suited to the spread of waterborne diseases such as cholera, diarrhea, dysentery and typhoid fever — all caused by pathogenic microbes. As communities in Texas and Louisiana deal with the ravages of Harvey, a public health crisis threat is all too real.

 

Flood waters carry along anything in their path, including pathogens, chemicals, sharp objects, sewage, debris — even snakes and mosquitoes. If this weren’t enough, because of the influx of water from the Gulf of Mexico, marine bacteria are also in the mix now with land flood waters. Harvey has created a perfect storm of teeming pathogens dangerous to human health.

 

“We don’t realize that the Gulf Coast is America’s vulnerable underbelly of infectious disease. The hot and humid region combines high levels of poverty with major transportation hubs, with problems exacerbated by the effects of climate change. All of those forces combine to make the Gulf Coast especially susceptible to infectious and tropical disease.”
— Peter Hotez, Dean
National School of Tropical Medicine
Baylor College of Medicine

Hurricane Harvey highlights a need for health education and preparedness about waterborne disease at the same level as that for the flu. WiRED International’s Health Learning Center offers interactive training modules on waterborne illnesses such as cholera and typhoid fever, which describe the diseases, their causes, diagnoses, treatments, consequences and prevention.

 

From Newsweek to the Huffington Post the media have begun reporting on the health risks as communities recover from Harvey. In a recent Washington Post article, Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Houston’s Baylor College of Medicine said:

 

“We don’t realize that the Gulf Coast is America’s vulnerable underbelly of infectious disease. The hot and humid region combines high levels of poverty with major transportation hubs, with problems exacerbated by the effects of climate change. All of those forces combine to make the Gulf Coast especially susceptible to infectious and tropical disease.”

 

September is National Preparedness Month. Check out WiRED’s Training Course for Communities — How to Prepare for and Manage Infectious Disease Outbreaks to see how WiRED is helping people in underserved countries face the challenges of disease.

 

 

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