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Trends in Probable PTSD in Firefighters Exposed to the World Trade Center Disaster, 2001–2010

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 April 2013


Objective: We present the longest follow-up, to date, of probable posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after the 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center (WTC) in New York City firefighters who participated in the rescue/recovery effort.

Methods: We examined data from 11 006 WTC-exposed firefighters who completed 40 672 questionnaires and reported estimates of probable PTSD by year from serial cross-sectional analyses. In longitudinal analyses, we used separate Cox models with data beginning from October 2, 2001, to identify variables associated with recovery from or delayed onset of probable PTSD.

Results: The prevalence of probable PTSD was 7.4% by September 11, 2010, and continued to be associated with early arrival at the WTC towers during every year of analysis. An increasing number of aerodigestive symptoms (hazard ratio [HR] 0.89 per symptom, 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.86-.93) and reporting a decrease in exercise, whether the result of health (HR 0.56 vs no change in exercise, 95% CI 0.41-.78) or other reasons (HR 0.76 vs no change in exercise, 95% CI 0.63-.92), were associated with a lower likelihood of recovery from probable PTSD. Arriving early at the WTC (HR 1.38 vs later WTC arrival, 95% CI 1.12-1.70), an increasing number of aerodigestive symptoms (HR 1.45 per symptom, 95% CI 1.40–1.51), and reporting an increase in alcohol intake since September 11, 2001 (HR 3.43 vs no increase in alcohol intake, 95% CI 2.67-4.43) were associated with delayed onset of probable PTSD.

Conclusions: Probable PTSD continues to be associated with early WTC arrival even 9 years after the terrorist attacks. Concurrent conditions and behaviors, such as respiratory symptoms, exercise, and alcohol use also play important roles in contributing to PTSD symptoms.

(Disaster Med Public Health Preparedness. 2011;5:S197-S203)

Original Research
Copyright © Society for Disaster Medicine and Public Health, Inc. 2011

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