This past week has been a stressful one for my fellow East Coast residents. During the storm, our home in New Jersey lost power, but my family and I fortunately got through Hurricane Sandy with little damage to the house and, most importantly, with our health.
However, the effects of a hurricane don’t end with the storm. At least 74 people have lost their lives. Thousands of homes were destroyed. Millions are still without power. As a physician, I worry about the health implications of Hurricane Sandy. How can the Eastern Seaboard recover and rebuild – and not sacrifice or endanger their health in the process?
Make Your Health a Priority
This is always important – but especially if you have existing health conditions. The stress from a disaster like a hurricane can aggravate your health problems and make you sicker. A group of researchers at New Orleans’ Tulane University studied the long-term effects of Hurricane Katrina, and found that the rate of heart attacks increased threefold in the years after the devastating storm.
After four years, the researchers confirmed 629 admissions to the hospital due to heart attacks out of a total of 29,228 admissions (2.2%). However, before Katrina, there were only 150 heart attacks out of 21,229 admissions (0.7%). One of the reasons for this change could be the chronic stress that comes with natural disasters. The surge of cortisol, the stress hormone, can aggravate already existing health conditions.
Furthermore, after disasters, many tend to neglect their health when trying to recover and rebuild. The focus switches to survival: What can I neglect to save time and money – and get my life back to normal? However, as the research shows, this could take years away from your life in the long run.
Do not forget about yourself while everything else is going on. Be sure to check in with your primary care provider, refill medications, and make sure everything is on track with your health.
Keep Track of Your Prescriptions
Nothing can deteriorate your health faster than skimping on your regular medications. In times of stress, you need your medications more than ever. Keep a written record of your current prescriptions in your “valuable papers” file. If you’re taking several prescription drugs, it’s an especially good idea to keep a record of your current dosage and doctor’s contact information. You may be able to print a list of your prescriptions from your pharmacy’s website. Ask your pharmacist for more information. In the meantime, make sure you save your empty pill bottles.
During natural disasters, like Hurricane Sandy, the US Department of Health and Human Services can waive certain rules for Medicare, Medicaid, and CHIP beneficiaries at states’ request with the goal of ensuring continuous care throughout a crisis.
Many pharmacies also collaborate with Rx Response (www.rxresponse.org), an initiative of the biopharmaceutical supply system, to help ensure patient access to medications following a natural disaster. It uses the Pharmacy Status Reporting Tool (PSRT) is an online program that allows emergency managers and the public to readily locate open pharmacies in communities that have been impacted by severe weather or other events.
Be Careful With Your Food and Water Supply
If you experience a power outage, the food in your refrigerator can become dangerous. When in doubt, throw it out. Also, during natural disasters, your water supply may become contaminated. Try to avoid drinking straight from the tap unless your local officials say your tap water is okay to drink. In the meantime, you should boil your water, rely on bottled water, or consider water purifying tablets like those used for camping.
Find a Support Group
While working to maintain your physical health, don’t forget about your mental health. After such a disaster, it’s normal for a person to experience stress and grief – especially if you’ve lost a loved-one or your home.
You can find a local support group by asking around at local religious institutions or community centers. It’s a great place to process your feelings with others who are experiencing what you’re going through and to remind yourself that you are not alone. If you’ve unfortunately lost a loved one, you may benefit from the caring support of a grief group. GriefShare is a good website that can help you find a local grief group in your area.
Finally, remember that we all stand the strongest when we are united. Despite these tough times, we are all part of a community that depends on each other and should care for each other. There are plenty of people out there right now that need your help. If you are able to donate funds or your time, please do. Watch your local news and do an online search to find out where and how.
Make sure to use Ready.gov’s website for information on what to do before, during, and after a hurricane or other disasters. Proper preparation is the best protection for your health and your family’s health.