Hurricane Harvey left a path of destruction in its wake, resulting in over 100 deaths and damaging critical infrastructure. During a disaster, public health surveillance is necessary to track emerging illnesses and injuries, identify at-risk populations, and assess the effectiveness of response efforts. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and American Red Cross collaborate on shelter surveillance to monitor the health of the sheltered population and help guide response efforts.
We analyzed data collected from 24 Red Cross shelters between August 25, 2017, and September 14, 2017. We described the aggregate morbidity data collected during Harvey compared with previous hurricanes (Gustav, Ike, and Sandy).
Over one-third (38%) of reasons for visit were for health care maintenance; 33% for acute illnesses, which includes respiratory conditions, gastrointestinal symptoms, and pain; 19% for exacerbation of chronic disease; 7% for mental health; and 4% for injury. The Red Cross treated 41% of clients within the shelters; however, reporting of disposition was often missed. These results are comparable to previous hurricanes.
The capacity of Red Cross shelter staff to address the acute health needs of shelter residents is a critical resource for local public health agencies overwhelmed by the disaster. However, there remains room for improvement because reporting remained inconsistent.