"Katrina Cough" and a Call for Respirators

Residents and responders alike in parts of New Orleans appear to be suffering from a respiratory ailment some are dubbing "Katrina Cough," and Physicians for Social Responsibility – Louisiana are requesting donations of respirators for returning residents and workers.

While physicians in the area say that they do not want to alarm residents unnecessarily, Dr. Kevin Jordan, director of medical affairs at Touro Infirmary and Memorial Medical Center in New Orleans, told the Los Angeles Times that the hospital had seen at least a 25 percent increase in complaints such as sinus headaches, congestion, runny noses and sore throats since Katrina. Many of the symptoms are probably allergy related, say doctors, because people are exposed to dust and mold while trying to repair and clean homes and businesses.

As people begin to repopulate Southeast Louisiana and salvage what they can in their flooded and wind damaged homes, concerns about exposure to mold, endotoxins, particulates and other potentially harmful substances grow. Preliminary testing results indicate that the indoor mold spore count in flooded homes is reaching 2.5 million; a count of more than 50,000 is considered severe by the National Allergy Board.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending the use of N95 masks, which filter 95 percent of particulates and are relatively inexpensive (a box of 20 costs about $18, a set of two can be purchased for about $5). However, federal and state agencies are refusing to distribute the masks, leaving it up to the residents. Moreover, home improvement stores in the area are beginning to run out the N95 model, making them publicly unavailable.

Physicians for Social Responsibility-Louisiana was able to locate and purchase 480 N95 masks. A Red Cross station in New Orleans East allowed PSR-Louisiana to join their cleaning supplies distribution line and deliver masks to families with instructions for use. Not a single family PSR encountered had been using an N95 model. Mask use was limited to painters' masks, which are not effective, or nothing at all. While PSR was able to distribute all of the masks, supplies only lasted for just over an hour, indicating the urgent and immediate need for additional supplies and volunteers to hand them out.

The group is seeking emergency funding to purchase and distribute masks through Red Cross cleaning supply lines. The station located in New Orleans East is allowing volunteers who were in charge of mask distribution to return to their location, and other stations seem amenable to the idea.

For more information, contact PSR-Louisiana Director Johanna Congleton by e-mail at [email protected] or by cell phone at (504) 638-1058.

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