How the CDC re­sponds to a storm like Florence

The Palm Beach Post - - AFTERMATH OF FLORENCE - By Melissa Healy

For all the po­lit­i­cal chat­ter about hur­ri­cane re­sponse and the hu­man toll of such dis­as­ters, one les­son of past mon­ster storms is clear and get­ting ever more ur­gent as they get more fre­quent: Hur­ri­canes claim lives and erode health be­fore, dur­ing and af­ter the wa­ter, wind and rain hit.

To re­duce the short-term and long-term health toll of th­ese storms, emer­gency plan­ners need to an­tic­i­pate how the threats to life and health un­fold, and get ahead of them.

They may even use such dis­as­ters as op­por­tu­ni­ties to boost com­mu­ni­ties’ health in a storm’s wake.

On Wed­nes­day, the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion set up a roughly 50-per­son Emer­gency Op­er­a­tions Cen­ter at its head­quar­ters in At­lanta. From it, ex­perts have traced the arc of dan­gers to af­fected pop­u­la­tions. Work­ing through med­i­cal com­mu­ni­ties and with state and fed­eral dis­as­ter re­lief agen­cies, the CDC says it is ex­e­cut­ing an un­fold­ing cam­paign to pre­vent in­juries, de­tect and re­spond to the emer­gence of dis­ease, and foster phys­i­cal and men­tal health be­fore, dur­ing and af­ter Hur­ri­cane Florence.

“There are def­i­nitely be­hav­ioral pat­terns we rec­og­nize,” said Donna Knut­son, the CDC’s in­ci­dent man­ager for the Hur­ri­cane Florence re­sponse. Peo­ple evac­u­ate with­out all their pre­scrip­tion drugs, she said. They cut them­selves trudg­ing un­pro­tected through flood­wa­ters tainted by in­dus­trial and house­hold pol­lu­tants. They take their chances on dicey stored food, invit­ing gas­troin­testi­nal mis­ery, and use gen­er­a­tors too close to their homes, risk­ing as­phyx­i­a­tion. They stay too long in homes con­tam­i­nated by mold and, in their ur­gency to re­gain their sense of nor­mal­ity, may over­look a fam­ily mem­ber’s gnaw­ing de­spair.

Th­ese threats to life and health are pre­ventable, said Knut­son. But it takes more than drills and ex­er­cises to pre­pare first re­spon­ders and med­i­cal com­mu­ni­ties to pre­vent them. Where fre­quent first-hand ex­pe­ri­ence may be miss­ing, the CDC can pro­vide ex­per­tise in what to ex­pect, she said.

In the run-up to Hur­ri­cane Florence’s ar­rival in the Caroli­nas, the CDC is­sued in­jury-pre­ven­tion mes­sages, warn­ing peo­ple in flooded ar­eas not to take refuge in their at­tics, touch downed power lines or drive into mov­ing wa­ter — one of the most fre­quent causes of drown­ing.

Its pub­lic health ex­perts have cal­cu­lated the safe ra­tio of shel­ter seek­ers to bath­room fa­cil­i­ties in pub­lic build­ings, and briefed hos­pi­tals and first re­spon­ders on the types of in­juries they’re likely to see, and when.

They’ve lined up booster shots against tetanus for evac­uees with open wounds, and laid in pneu­mo­nia in­oc­u­la­tions to of­fer at shel­ters. Knut­son said that the CDC is dis­patch­ing flu vac­cine to many shel­ters to cap­i­tal­ize on th­ese fa­cil­i­ties’ cap­tive pop­u­la­tions.

And, as wa­ters sub­side, evac­uees re­turn­ing to homes that have stood in wa­ter for more than 48 hours will get de­tailed in­struc­tions in how to clear and clean to pre­vent mold, which can cause and ex­ac­er­bate re­s­pi­ra­tory and al­ler­gic re­ac­tions. The CDC is also ready­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal health of­fi­cers to as­sess mold, drink­ing wa­ter threats and the es­cape of haz­ardous ma­te­ri­als, as well as epi­demi­ol­o­gists to de­tect ex­plod­ing pop­u­la­tions of ro­dents and mos­qui­toes and out­breaks of the dis­eases they carry.

Knut­son said the CDC will be vig­i­lant for out­breaks of plague, trans­mit­ted when rat pop­u­la­tions surge and peo­ple get bit­ten by ro­dent fleas car­ry­ing the Yersinia pestis bac­terium.

VIC­TOR J. BLUE / NEW YORK TIMES

Peo­ple can cut them­selves trudg­ing un­pro­tected through flood­wa­ters tainted by pol­lu­tants, a pre­ventable threat, said Donna Knut­son, the CDC’s in­ci­dent man­ager for the Hur­ri­cane Florence re­sponse.

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