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Disaster-Related Exposures and Health Effects Among US Coast Guard Responders to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita: A Cross-Sectional Study

Rusiecki, Jennifer A. PhD; Thomas, Dana L. MD, MPH; Chen, Ligong MD, MPH; Funk, Renée DVM, MPH&TM; McKibben, Jodi PhD; Dayton, Melburn R. MS

Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine: August 2014 - Volume 56 - Issue 8 - p 820–833
doi: 10.1097/JOM.0000000000000188
Original Articles

Objective: Disaster responders work among poorly characterized physical and psychological hazards with little understood regarding health consequences of their work.

Methods: A survey administered to 2834 US Coast Guard responders to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita provided data on exposures and health effects. Prevalence odds ratios (PORs) evaluated associations between baseline characteristics, missions, exposures, and health effects.

Results: Most frequent exposures were animal/insect vector (n = 1309; 46%) and floodwater (n = 817; 29%). Most frequent health effects were sunburn (n = 1119; 39%) and heat stress (n = 810; 30%). Significant positive associations were for mold exposure and sinus infection (POR = 10.39); carbon monoxide and confusion (POR = 6.27); lack of sleep and slips, trips, falls (POR = 3.34) and depression (POR = 3.01); being a Gulf-state responder and depression (POR = 3.22).

Conclusions: Increasing protection for disaster responders requires provisions for adequate sleep, personal protective equipment, and access to medical and psychological support.

From the Department of Preventive Medicine and Biometrics (Drs Rusiecki, Chen, and McKibben), Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Bethesda, Md; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Dr Thomas), National Center for Emerging Zoonotic and Infectious Diseases, Division of Vector Borne Diseases, Dengue Branch, San Juan, Puerto Rico; United States Coast Guard (Drs Rusiecki and Thomas and Mr Dayton), Directorate of Health, Safety, and Work Life, Washington, DC; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Dr Funk), National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Emergency Preparedness and Response Office, Atlanta, Ga; and Department of Psychology (Dr McKibben), West Chester University, Pa.

Address correspondence to: Jennifer A. Rusiecki, PhD, Department of Preventive Medicine and Biometrics, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, 4301 Jones Bridge Rd, Bethesda, MD 20814 (Jennifer.rusiecki@usuhs.edu).

The findings and conclusions expressed in this scientific article are those of the authors and do not reflect the official policy or positions of the Uniformed Services University, the Department of Defense, the United States Coast Guard, the Department of Homeland Security, or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

Copyright © 2014 by the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine