Nine Health Hazards in Katrina's Wake

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SAVED: A woman is rescued after being trapped in her home submerged by high water

If life were fair, simply surviving a hurricane as devastating as Katrina would be good enough. But as the residents of the Gulf Coast have now discovered, there are plenty of threats to life and limb in the days and weeks after the skies have cleared. Here's a rundown of some the hazards:

As with other, less-ruinous hurricanes, the greatest cause of death is drowning. Now that the actual storm surge has receded and thousands of people have been rescued from rooftops, the greatest danger is that folks will try their luck driving across flooded roadways. Two-thirds of the drowning deaths from Hurricane Floyd in 1999 in North Carolina occurred when people were trapped in their cars by floodwaters.

Water conducts electricity and live power lines can be deadly, especially if they are downed or not easily visible.

Fire and Carbon-Monoxide Poisoning
With no light or electricity, it's natural to light candles and use camp stoves for cooking. Even the water in some parts of the New Orleans may be flammable, however, as gasoline leaks from submerged cars and other vehicles. Fires have already erupted where gas pipes have broken. All cook stoves, generators, charcoal grills or any other machine that runs on gasoline or charcoal should be used out of doors as carbon monoxide can build up in enclosed areas.

Physical Trauma
Cuts, bruises, sprained ankles and more serious injuries like broken bones are common in the aftermath of a hurricane, often as a result of the understandable desire to search for prized possessions in the rubble or to start cleaning up right away.

Gastrointestinal Illnesses
Despite common belief, there is generally no health danger from corpses in the water. However, flood waters are full of sewage and the sanitary conditions in shelters, like the Superdome, are reportedly deteriorating—leading to pressure to evacuate, possibly to the Astrodome in Houston.

Drinking flood waters, either inadvertently or in desperation will lead to diarrhea. Wherever water mains have broken, as in New Orleans, whatever comes out of the tap is bound to be contaminated. All non-bottled water should be strained and boiled for at least a minute—preferably five minutes. Don't use even treated water to make up infant formula.

Throw away any food that has come into contact with water. Don't count on being able to tell that canned foods have gone bad simply by checking to see if they are bulging. If they are opened or damaged, throw them out.

Wash hands with soap and clean water or alcohol-based gels whenever possible.

Respiratory Ailments
There is plenty of crowding in shelters, which has led in the past to outbreaks of flu and even concerns about tuberculosis.

Pre-existing Conditions
The Gulf Coast is the buckle on America's diabetes belt. Folks who had to run for their lives didn't necessarily have time to take their medications. Insulin needs to be refrigerated and the needles used to administer it must be clean—tough to do under current conditions.

Allergies and Asthma
As residents return to their homes—if the structures are still standing—mold becomes an even greater issue, especially in the humid conditions of the Gulf Coast. Wet, porous items like carpet and upholstered furniture should be tossed. Wear a protective mask and clothing while cleaning up to minimize exposure.

Mental Health
The stress of surviving a natural disaster and of losing house and home will take its toll. In the aftermath of the tsunami, community leaders discovered that getting back to as normal a routine as possible was a natural and highly effective way of dealing with that stress. That's why you saw children going to school right away, even if classes needed to be held outdoors.