When a natural disaster – like Hurricane Harvey – hits, one of the immediate effects is often flooding. As waters rise, people and animals are in danger and become displaced. With the onslaught of rain during Harvey, contact with water is unavoidable.
However, it’s the aftermath of the disaster that often poses a massive threat in the form of a host of infectious diseases – and also highlights the great need for continued vaccine development to protect or treat disease.
The lack of safe water and sanitation facilities, coupled with the close proximity of people crowded into shelters, proves to be a breeding ground for disease outbreaks.
If drinking water becomes contaminated after a disaster, it raises the likelihood of outbreaks of diarrheal diseases, cholera, Hepatitis A and typhoid fever. Crowded conditions also make it easier for infectious diseases – especially those that are airborne — to move rapidly from person to person. Ensuring that people are immunized against vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles or whooping cough can help prevent this sort of an outbreak when people are forced into close quarters as a result of a natural disaster.
Floods and the resulting stagnant water provide the perfect breeding ground for vector-borne diseases. Mosquitoes carry a number of viral diseases, from Zika to Yellow Fever to West Nile. In fact, it’s the height of mosquito season in Texas, which just reported its first locally transmitted cause of the Zika virus in July. After Hurricane Katrina hit the U.S. Gulf Coast in 2005, the number of reported cases of West Nile sharply increased in Louisiana and Mississippi.
At IDRI, we stand with all those affected by Hurricane Harvey. One role we can play in future natural disasters is to encourage people to be immunized against those diseases for which there are viable vaccines and to continue development of vaccines for diseases that have none.