U.S. public health officials are worried about the possible spread of infectious diseases in areas hardest hit by Hurricane Katrina. Stagnant flood waters, lack of proper sewage and clean water all could contribute to the spread of disease.
The conditions in the flooded city of New Orleans are a recipe for diahrreal diseases rarely seen in the United States, including hepatitis, dysentery, cholera, and typhus. The diseases occur when there is no sanitation, and water becomes contaminated with fecal matter.
Officials are also concerned about mosquito-borne illnesses.
Appearing on CNN's Late Edition program Sunday, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt says it is not uncommon to see such outbreaks following natural disasters.
"Any time you have this type of disaster, whether it's in the United States or anywhere else, you have the potential for this kind of disease. For that reason, we have dispatched 24 public health teams, or (we are) in the process of dispatching them, throughout the Gulf region to begin working with state and local officials to assure we are doing everything possible to avoid it," Mr. Leavitt says.
Mr. Leavitt says public health officials will also help victims who are traumatized by the hurricane.
"People have lost their jobs, they have lost their lives, they have lost loved ones, their homes are gone, their mementos, all of the things that make life stable and certain for many of these people are gone, and it's going to exact a devastating toll. And we've got to be there to help them, and we will be," Mr. Leavitt says.
For now, Mr. Leavitt says, federal officials are assessing the immediate health needs of survivors of hurricane Katrina, and mobilizing a coordinated response that may ultimately include offers of assistance from abroad.