Floodwaters Carry Bacteria, Threat of West Nile

By Lois Baker

Release Date: September 2, 2005

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Iain Hay
716-829-2907 (office)
jhay@buffalo.edu

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Intestinal diseases like diarrhea and dysentery, along with outbreaks of West Nile virus, are likely to occur because of floodwaters affecting New Orleans and other areas along the Gulf Coast in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, according to microbiologist Iain Hay at the University at Buffalo.

"There are short-term, medium-term and long-term health consequences to consider," says Hay, Grant T. Fisher Chair and professor of microbiology and immunology in UB School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences and a member of the executive board of the North East Biodefense Center of the National Institutes of Health.

"The short-term problems are enteric (intestinal) diseases, such as diarrhea and dysentery, caused by bacteria, primarily E. coli, shigella and salmonella. The floodwater is contaminated by fecal matter. Being in it isn't a disease problem; you have to ingest the water. The fix is clean drinking water."

"In the mid-term," Hay adds, "the water is going to be a great breeding ground for mosquitoes, and I think we will see outbreaks of West Nile virus. West Nile is asymptomatic in most people, but the elderly are particularly at risk. There should be no other mosquito-born diseases.

"In the longer-term, as the water subsides, there will probably be mold-associated problems. Mold doesn't affect normal people, but it will affect people with allergies and the immune-compromised."

Iain Hay
716-829-2907 (office)
jhay@buffalo.edu