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When Hurricane Harvey landed along the Texas coast on August 25, 2017, it caused massive flooding and damage and displaced tens of thousands of residents of Harris County, Texas. Between August 29 and September 23, Harris County, along with community partners, operated a megashelter at NRG Center, which housed 3365 residents at its peak. Harris County Public Health conducted comprehensive public health surveillance and response at NRG, which comprised disease identification through daily medical record reviews, nightly “cot-to-cot” resident health surveys, and epidemiological consultations; messaging and communications; and implementation of control measures including stringent isolation and hygiene practices, vaccinations, and treatment. Despite the lengthy operation at the densely populated shelter, an early seasonal influenza A (H3) outbreak of 20 cases was quickly identified and confined. Influenza outbreaks in large evacuation shelters after a disaster pose a significant threat to populations already experiencing severe stressors. A holistic surveillance and response model, which consists of coordinated partnerships with onsite agencies, in-time epidemiological consultations, predesigned survey tools, trained staff, enhanced isolation and hygiene practices, and sufficient vaccines, is essential for effective disease identification and control. The lessons learned and successes achieved from this outbreak may serve for future disaster response settings. (Disaster Med Public Health Preparedness. 2019;13:97-101)
Background: On September 13, 2008, Hurricane Ike, a category 2 storm with maximum sustained winds of 110 mph, made landfall near Galveston, Texas. Ike produced a damaging, destructive, and deadly storm surge across the upper Texas and southwestern Louisiana coasts. Thirty-four Texas counties were declared disaster areas by the Federal Emergency Management Agency; 15 counties were under mandatory evacuation orders. To describe causes of death associated with this hurricane and identify prevention strategies during the response and recovery phases, the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) monitored mortality data in 44 counties throughout the state. This report summarizes Ike-related deaths reported by Texas medical examiners, justices of the peace (coroners), forensic centers, public health officials, and hospitals.
Methods: Based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) disaster-related mortality surveillance form, DSHS developed a state-specific 1-page form and collected (optimally daily) data on demographic, date and place of death, and cause and circumstance of deaths. A case was defined as any death that was directly or indirectly related to Ike among evacuees, residents, nonresidents, or rescue personnel in the declared disaster counties, counties along the Texas Gulf coast or counties known to have evacuation shelters occurring September 8, 2008, through October 13, 2008. Analyzed data were shared with the state emergency operation center and the CDC on a daily basis.
Results: The surveillance identified 74 deaths in Texas as directly (10 [14%]), indirectly (49 [66%]), or possibly (15 [20%]) related to Ike. The majority of deaths (n = 57) were reported by medical examiners. Deaths occurred in 16 counties of the 44 counties covered by the surveillance. The majority of deaths occurred in Harris and Galveston (28 [38%] and 17 [23%]), respectively. The deceased ranged in age from younger than 1 year to 85 years, with an average age of 46 years (median 50 years); 70% were male. Of the 74 deaths, 47 (64%) resulted from injuries, 23 (31%) from illnesses, and 4 (5%) were undetermined. Among the injuries, carbon monoxide poisoning (13 [18%]) and drowning (8 [11%]) were the leading causes of injury-related deaths. Cardiovascular failure (12 [16%]) was the leading cause of illness-related deaths.
Conclusions: Defining the relation of death to hurricane using an active mortality surveillance system is possible. The active mortality surveillance form used in Ike provided valuable daily information to DSHS, state emergency management officials, and the CDC regarding the characteristics of deaths in the state. Most of the Ike-related deaths were caused by injury (direct and indirectly related) such as carbon monoxide poisonings and drowning and may have been preventable by educating the public.
(Disaster Med Public Health Preparedness. 2011;5:23-28)
On 13 September 2008, Hurricane Ike made landfall near Galveston, Texas, resulting in an estimated 74 deaths statewide and extensive damage in many counties. The Texas Department of State Health Services, US Public Health Service, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducted assessments beginning 12 days following hurricane landfall to identify the public health needs of three affected communities. The results of the assessment are presented, and an example of a type of public health epidemiological response to a disaster due to a natural hazard is provided.
A one-page questionnaire that focused on household public health characteristics was developed. Using a two-stage cluster sampling methodology, 30 census blocks were selected randomly in three communities (Galveston, Liberty, and Manvel, Texas). Seven households were selected randomly from each block to interview.
The assessments were conducted on 25, 26, and 30 September 2008. At the time of the interview, 45% percent of the households in Galveston had no electricity, and 26% had no regular garbage collection. Forty-six percent reported feeling that their residence was unsafe to inhabit due to mold, roof, and/or structural damage, and lack of electricity. Sixteen percent of households reported at least one member of the household had an injury since the hurricane. In Liberty, only 7% of the household members interviewed had no access to food, 4% had no working toilet, 2% had no running water, and 2% had no electricity. In Manvel, only 5% of the households did not have access to food, 3% had no running water, 2% had no regular garbage collection, and 3% had no electricity.
Post-Ike household-level surveys conducted identified the immediate needs and associated risks of the affected communities. Despite the response efforts, a high proportion of households in Galveston still were reportedly lacking electricity and regular garbage pickup 17 days post-storm. The proportion of households with self-reported injury in Galveston suggested the need to enhance public education on how to prevent injuries during hurricane cleanup. Galveston public health officials used the assessment to educate local emergency and elected officials of the health hazards related to lack of basic utilities and medical care in the community. This resulted in the provision of an extensive public health outreach education program throughout the island. The Liberty and Manvel assessment findings suggest that most households in both communities were receiving the basic utilities and that the residents felt “safe”. The assessments reassured local health officials that there were no substantial acute public health needs and provided objective information that services were being restored.
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