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During disasters, public health departments assume the role of maintaining the health of displaced persons. Displaced persons arrive with acute and chronic conditions as well as other risk factors. Descriptions of these conditions may aid future shelter planning efforts.
Approximately 4,000 individuals from New Orleans, displaced by Hurricane Katrina, were sheltered in Austin, Texas. A stratified random sample of the population was selected using individual beds as the primary sampling unit. Adults were interviewed about their acute symptoms, chronic diseases, and other risk factors.
The results indicate a substantial proportion of adults arrived with some symptoms of acute illness (49.8%). A majority of the adults reported living with a chronic condition (59.0%), and the prevalence of some chronic conditions was higher than that of the general population. Also, several factors that could complicate service delivery were prevalent.
Acute illnesses present transmission risks within the shelter. Furthermore, chronic diseases must be managed and may complicate care of acute illnesses. Risks like activity limitation or substance abuse may complicate shelter operations. Defining the potential scope of the illness burden may be used to help public health departments better plan the services they must deliver to displaced populations.
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