Study: Post-Hurricane Environments Rife with Mites, Skin Disorders

Four distinct skin disorders were found in construction workers who helped repair buildings after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, according to a report in the November issue of Archives of Dermatology. Outbreaks of skin diseases frequently occur following hurricanes and flooding, but few of these outbreaks have been thoroughly investigated, according to background information in the article.

Rebecca Noe, M.P.H., and colleagues at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta analyzed the results of "syndromic" surveys conducted in New Orleans following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, which made landfall Aug. 29, 2005, and Sept. 24, 2005, respectively. The researchers studied skin biopsy specimens and the environmental exposures of 136 civilian construction workers working and living at a New Orleans military base between August 2005 and October 2005. Many of these workers lived in wooden huts and tents with limited sanitation facilities. According to the article, the surveys indicated that 22 percent of diseases treated were dermatologic conditions, including skin or wound infections and rashes.

"Of 136 workers, 58 reported rash, yielding an attack rate of 42.6 percent," the authors write. Forty-one (70.7 percent) of those who reported a rash were examined for diagnosis. Twenty-seven (65.9 percent) were found to have papular urticaria, a sensitivity reaction to insect bites resulting in solid raised bumps on the skin; eight (19.5 percent) had bacterial folliculitis, an infection causing inflammation around the hair follicles; six (14.6 percent) had fiberglass dermatitis, an irritation and inflammation of the skin from contact with fiberglass; and two (4.9 percent) had brachioradial photodermatitis, an abnormal skin reaction to sunlight causing irritation and burning in the arms.

Workers who were Native American, worked as roofers, or slept in huts that had sustained flooding during Hurricane Katrina were more likely to suffer from papular urticaria than other workers. Native American workers were also more likely to develop fiberglass dermatitis than workers of another race, the article notes.

"A suspected mite infestation of flooded housing units is the most plausible hypothesis, although we were unable to identify the arthropod source," the authors conclude, suggesting that such sources could be any of a variety of insects, spiders, and scorpions. "People working and living in post-hurricane environments where flooding has occurred may be at an increased risk of exposure to arthropods. To reduce dermatologic morbidity, we suggest avoiding flooded areas, fumigating with an acaricide [pesticide], wearing protective clothing and using arthropod repellant."

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