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Hurricane Sandy’s Health Woes Continue

Medical Care in Short Supply continued...

While they can deliver some kinds of urgent care on the spot, in more severe cases, “we’re really triaging people who maybe need to see a specialist or go to the hospital,” she says.

Carney says they’re treating about 30 patients a day. Typical injuries have ranged from athlete's foot (a fungal infection that thrives on wet skin), to coughs and colds, to deep cuts that need stitches and tetanus shots.

And Carney advises people who are due for a tetanus booster to go for the combination Tdap vaccine, which protects against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (whooping cough).

Before the storm, the region was already experiencing a spike in whooping cough.

“So the combination shot will help prevent both infections,” she says.

The coughing many people are now experiencing is probably caused by a convergence of problems, Carney says.

She notes that the Northeast is seeing a regular seasonal uptick in upper respiratory infections and flu-like illnesses. The stress and anxiety of weeks without basic necessities cripples the body’s ability to fend off germs.

Breathing Problems

In addition, people are getting sick as they try to clean up ruined rooms.

“They may be in basements pulling down drywall, pulling out insulation, pulling up rugs, and this is affecting breathing because dust and fibers get generated up,” Carney says.

To help prevent breathing problems during cleanup, Kass says health departments are distributing thousands of free N95 masks.

“If you’re doing work, wear a mask. Take breaks, go outside, and get some fresh air if you’re in an enclosed space. If you’re feeling symptoms of respiratory distress, stop what you’re doing and get to another environment,” Carney says.

In some cases, residents are trying to tackle jobs that are simply too big to take on alone.

“If a job seems too big, it is,” Kass says. “Going forward, there will be homes that have very substantial mold problems. And some of that can be cleaned up by individuals, but others will require professional help,” he says.

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