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Hurricane Katrina Took Emotional Toll on Workers

Emergency personnel health and safety measures need to be added to disaster plans

FRIDAY, April 28 (HealthDay News) -- Many New Orleans police officers and firefighters reported both physical and psychological symptoms soon after Hurricane Katrina that may be related to both work duties and personal stress, according to a report in the April 28 issue of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Members of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention distributed questionnaires to the New Orleans Police and Fire Departments seven to 13 weeks after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast on August 29, 2005. The survey included questions about floodwater exposure, work duties, housing status, and physical and mental health symptoms and injuries.

The investigators found that upper respiratory and skin rash were the most common clinical symptoms, which may have been related to the high rate of floodwater exposure (51 percent for firefighters, 30 percent for police officers) during rescue activities. The most common physical injuries were strains, lacerations, falls and animal bites or stings. They also found that around one-third of the respondents reported either depression or symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

"These results underscore the need to incorporate the safety and health of emergency responders into existing disaster preparedness plans and to provide periodic responder training and education in tasks unique to disaster situations," the authors write.

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