Disaster responders work among poorly characterized physical and psychological hazards with little understood regarding health consequences of their work.
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.
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).
Increasing protection for disaster responders requires provisions for adequate sleep, personal protective equipment, and access to medical and psychological support.