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ADVANCE Perspective: Respiratory Views

Five Years After Katrina, Health Effects Linger

Published August 26, 2010 12:24 PM by Mike Bederka
Nearly 80 percent of children with asthma in post-Katrina New Orleans were sensitive to mold, according to research findings from Head-off Environmental Asthma in Louisiana (HEAL) Phase I. It is 50 percent in major urban areas around the country.

"We have heard a lot about how Katrina changed the city of New Orleans but very little about how the city's post-Katrina environment changed health outcomes," stated Floyd Malveaux, MD, PhD, executive director of Merck Childhood Asthma Network Inc., a HEAL partner. "There is an undeniable connection between the environment and the health of children with asthma. Effective asthma management must go beyond traditional medical care and include additional interventions to manage the problem, as well as to reduce exposure to the specific environmental triggers known to exacerbate a child's asthma.

"Another devastating impact of the storm was the collapse of the health care infrastructure," Dr. Malveaux continued. "For many children with asthma, the storm blew away the ability to access even the most basic of health care services and any ability to monitor and track their health. We structured HEAL to provide families with a tailored approach that provided a stronger and more coordinated system for managing asthma than they had before the storm; a system that showed positive results for the children."

The HEAL program partnered 184 children, 4 to 12 years old, with moderate to severe asthma and their families with a team of health education specialists and community health workers who provided education and counseling to caregivers on how to manage their child's asthma in a transformed environment. HEAL interventionists used tailored case management and home visitation to reduce risk factors and triggers in the home. The progress for children in the program was positive and cut children's days with symptoms in half. HEAL Phase II is currently under way.

Click here for the story of two respiratory students who fled New Orleans immediately after the storm and here for our September/October 2008 cover story on the continuing health impact of Katrina. Also, read a nice Q&A with Dr. Malveaux here.

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