Monday, January 09, 2006

AIN'T OVER 'TILL ITS OVER



New Orleans area law enforcement and emergency service volunteers also are reporting medical problems and attempting to alert the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals to recognize the health hazard being dubbed the Katrina Rash or New Orleans Crud.

The Daily Leader reports toxic water resulting from Katrina is taking a toll on the health of area first-responders who answered medical and law enforcement calls for assistance after back-to-back hurricanes earlier this year that may have changed Louisiana’s Crescent City and other Gulf Coast parishes forever.

Louisiana State Trooper David Bryant responded three times to the help call and also is receiving medical assistance after contracting a recurring 102-degree fever following his third trip. Doctors have been unable to determine whether his illness, which resembles pneumonia or bronchitis, is fungal or bacterial.

“It definitely came from New Orleans,” the trooper said. “My chest started hurting in October and lasted for more than a month. I returned to Ruston, but went back to New Orleans for a week over Halloween. When I came home the third time is when I had the high fever.”

“David (Bryant) is home now, but he’s going to a specialist in New Orleans after the first of the year,” fiancĂ© Carol Dreyfus said. “They really don’t know what he has — they just call it the New Orleans Crud. But he’s lost 32 pounds and looks horrible.”

Bryant blames part of his woes on lack of preparedness by state police headquarters.

“They dumped us off in New Orleans without the right equipment and they didn’t give us shots or respirators,” first responder David Bryant said. “The whole thing in New Orleans was really unorganized — horribly, horribly, horribly unorganized by both the governor and state police headquarters.”

Bryant has been in and out of hospitals suffering with chest pains, abdominal problems, extreme weakness and fatigue.

“I’m tired of my chest hurting,” the eight-year veteran trooper said. “I’m tired of the cramps.”

Lincoln Parish Deputy Tommy Doss, another early responder, had a different experience — a rash developed on his forearm shortly after returning from his stint in New Orleans. Topical skin treatment helped his forearm for a few days, but then the rash emerged on his legs. During treatment, it also returned to his arm.

“Now I’ve got the rash on both legs and my arm,” Doss said. “I don’t know for sure that I caught it in New Orleans, or what it is, but a lot of people are coming down with weird rashes.”

The American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) reports several residents in other states who traveled to New Orleans in the wake of Katrina have come down with skin infections and rashes.

Amy M. Hollar, a pharmacy practice resident at Mission Hospitals in Asheville, N.C., calls the condition the Katrina Rash. The ASHP field hospital treated several local (New Orleans) residents and relief workers for various skin infections and rashes. Several patients were diagnosed with methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

Robert Leeds, a critical care pharmacist at Durham (N.C.) Regional Hospital, part of the Duke University Health System, said another skin infection is being identified as being caused by the marine bacterium Vibrio fischeri.

A third skin infection is suspected by epidemiologists at the field hospital to be a contact dermatitis, Hollar said.

Heather Tornabene is a licensed practical nurse and a first-responder EMT. She volunteered to go to New Orleans twice and says MRSA is very dangerous.

“MRSA is antibiotic resistant,” Tornabene said. “Most antibiotics won’t touch it, so it is extremely hard to treat.”

And according to Medscape hurricane Katrina evacuees are not listed as a risk group for MRSA.

And other health concerns are also appearing.

Unsafe levels of lead have been found in soil and sediments left behind in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina and could pose a heightened health threat to returning residents, particularly children, according to a new study published in the American Chemical Society's journal Environmental Science & Technology. In some soil samples collected from the area, lead levels were as much as two-thirds higher than what the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers safe, according to researchers at Texas Tech University.

The same scientists also found concentrations of aldrin (an insecticide), arsenic, and seven semivolatile organic compounds that exceeded EPA Region VI safe levels and are on EPA's list of known or suspected human carcinogens. In all, the researchers analyzed the sediment and soil samples for 26 metals and more than 90 semi-volatile compounds.

In addition to sediment and soil samples, the researchers also tested water and animal tissues following the flood. Other contaminants found among samples include high levels of iron, several banned pesticides and pathogenic bacteria, but the researchers say that concentrations of most of these contaminants were unlikely to pose an immediate human health threat. The peer-reviewed study, which represents one of the most detailed environmental sampling efforts to date following the flooding caused by Katrina, will appear in the Jan. 15 issue of ES&T.

"The purpose of this study is to gather more extensive samples and establish baseline data upon which to evaluate the long-term environmental impact of the storm," says Presley. "It may take years before we really know the full extent of the human health risks and wildlife impact from the Katrina contaminants, but this is an important step."

The researcher cautions that this study alone won't answer the much debated question of whether it is safe to return to the area. Nonetheless, says Presley, people should be made aware of the contaminants that are present and take appropriate cleanup measures to minimize the potential health risks. Sources: Science Daily, Medscape, Daily Leader (Ruston, Louisiana)

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