New Dangers in Post-Sandy World


Katrina's Health Lessons for Sandy Victims

"Keeping hands clean is very, very important." Portier said. "If you're not sure the water is safe, boil the water before you wash your hands with it."

Rosenstreich added that people can't get sick from simply breathing near the dirty water, but they should wear a mask and gloves when they come in contact with it. Even an unnoticed paper cut can become a big problem.

"I'm looking at my hands now, and I've got a million little cuts from cleaning my backyard," he said. "People have to be really careful."

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning from Back-up Generators

Superstorm Sandy left millions of people without power Monday night, prompting many of them to use back-up generators and coal stoves inside their homes to keep warm. But without proper ventilation, a cozy, alternative heating source can turn deadly when exhaust gets trapped and causes carbon monoxide poisoning.

So far, 439 carbon monoxide exposures have been reported to poison control centers in 12 states in the week since the storm, and four people in Pennsylvania died as a result, according to the CDC.

"It's odorless," Portier said. "You can't tell it's there, and then you start getting a headache, lay down and don't get up."

Carbon monoxide poisoning affects red blood cells, which carry oxygen throughout the body. However, the blood cells pick up carbon monoxide faster than they pick up oxygen, so when there's a lot of carbon monoxide in the air, they don't pick up enough oxygen. The result is tissue damage from oxygen deprivation that can ultimately result in death.

Wood stoves, fireplaces and even generators placed outdoors can produce lethal amounts of carbon monoxide if the ventilation is bad.

Sometimes, people in apartments put the generators outside, and open enough windows to keep their homes ventilated, but the exhaust poisons an unsuspecting tenant in another nearby apartment who wasn't told to open his or her windows.

Home Repairs Gone Awry and Other Injuries

Dr. Joseph Guarisco, the chief of emergency services for Ochsner Health System in New Orleans, said he saw it all in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina filled his ER with patients for months after the storm.

"It's going to be a new environment, and you have to be really mindful and that's the key thing," Guarisco said. "There are dangers lurking everywhere that were not there before the storm."

For the first several weeks, Guarisco's patients ran into problems because they were evacuated outside their health networks and couldn't see their regular physicians or get their prescriptions. He saw many patients with chronic issues, such as renal failure, who couldn't get access to normal treatment like dialysis.

He also saw hydration and nutrition issues, as well as patients who tried to ride out being sick on their own but eventually needed to see a doctor. Some patients tried to eat contaminated or unrefrigerated food, and came down with gastrointestinal ailments.

Once that subsided, the home repair injuries started pouring in.

"As people return [home] it kind of evolves to a different nature of patients trying to put things back together," he said. "They fall off the roof into standing water, lots of eye injuries from branches and debris. Lots of soft tissue stuff."

He said people who had never used power tools in their lives suddenly felt compelled to use power chain saws, power drills and nail guns. Many of them came in with hand injuries.

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