The Health Risks for Harvey Victims

The destruction. The death-toll. The murky dirty flood waters. Thousands of displaced residents.

In the storm’s wake, there’s not much good to say about Harvey.

And, now as those who have been impacted are realizing Harvey’s dangers go beyond the rising waters. The storm continues to bring additional health hazards, from mosquitoes and mold to bacteria sodden debris and contaminated water.

CHRISTUS Health is stepping in to help combat some of these harmful health threats.

Floodwater may contain a number of pathogens, and people crowded into shelters are especially vulnerable to outbreaks of common illnesses.

Doctor Sam Bagchi, CHRISTUS Health’s Chief Medical Officer and Chief Medical Information Officer spent time volunteering and treating patients at the Dallas evacuee mega shelter. The shelter, located at downtown Dallas’ Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center, is full of approximately 1,000 people from across Southeast Texas and the Gulf Coast.


“All of the people I treated at the clinic were from Port Arthur and Beaumont.   It’s very humbling to have seen the challenges that people are facing in the shelter after leaving their homes,” said Bagchi.

“We know when we have a lot of people congregating into one space like this, there is a concern over viral illness outbreaks,” he explained. “Beyond big concerns of things like the norovirus,  they need their medications. Their physical, and in some cases their mental health, needs to be taken care of after such a major life event.”

Those who were exposed to the dirty flood waters should be proactive and get a tetanus shot, according to Bagchi.

Rainy day

Many people exposed to the water have reported skin infections.

In the Coastal Bend, where Harvey first made landfall, the CHRISTUS Spohn CareVan, a mobile health clinic, has scheduled visits in the devastated areas of Aransas Pass, Refugio and Rockport. Medical professionals will be distributing free tetanus vaccinations and flu shots.

Over the weekend, CHRISTUS Spohn Associates traveled to Rockport to help with clean up efforts.

A team of 25 Associates traded in their normal hospital and health clinic attire and put on work boots, heavy work gloves. They came prepared with saws, rakes and limb cutters to help out their community.

Some CHRISTUS clinics and facilities like Promptu Urgent Care facilities have offered free tetanus shots. Tetanus shots last up to 10 years.

Cindy Powers, the infection prevention specialist at CHRISTUS St. Elizabeth, in Beaumont, Texas says now that the community is entering the cleaning phase there is new cause for concern.

cindy powers interview

“One of the most important things is to make sure you protect your feet and your hands as you clean up,” said Powers to Beaumont television station, 12 News. “So wader boots, knee boots and then heavy gloves and then don’t touch your eyes, nose or mouth with your contaminated hands.”

Promptu Immediate Care on Dowlen Rd. in Beaumont offered free tetanus shots Tuesday, Sept. 6. for the first 100 patients.

Mental health concerns

As physical health issues might stack up, so too can mental health illnesses.  People already suffering from depression or bipolar disorders can find themselves overwhelmed, aggravated and suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Dr. David Engleking  first joined CHRISTUS Health System in 2009 as chief medical officer of CHRISTUS St. Patrick Hospital in Lake Charles, Louisiana.  He’s taken part in emergency preparedness planning for southwestern Louisiana and has witnessed the residual effects of storms like Katrina and Rita.

Those returning home will find moldy environments and a mosquito population thriving in the many standing pools of water.

“It takes time for the waters to recede  which increases the likelihood of infectious diseases, environmental rot and prolonged periods of population displacement many times becoming permanent,” said Engleking. “Relative to mental health issues, they increase both in severity and frequency. These types of catastrophes are frequently provocative to mental health conditions.”


Indeed, many studies document a surge in mental health diagnoses in communities that experience wide spread flooding.  Long after the water is gone, the mental health issues can remain. Sometimes for years, so awareness becomes key.

That’s where CHRISTUS hopes to help with a variety of health screenings and Tetanus Vaccine clinics scheduled through out the month of September.

“Given that our many facilities are along the Gulf Coast, CHRISTUS Health has this awareness   We remain prepared to address post hurricane consequences in the communities we serve,” said Engleking.