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Preventing the Spread of Disease After a Hurricane

The article discusses the dangers communities can face in the aftermath of hurricanes long after they strike, in the form of infectious disease. The destruction of infrastructure caused by hurricanes often has serious adverse effects on public health; impassable roads and a lack of clean drinking water are just several factors in increasing disease spread. The standing water that results from the hurricanes is a huge factor in spreading disease. In addition to standing water being a risk factor for waterborne disease, standing water is also an ideal breeding ground for mosquitos, which are excellent vehicles for vector-borne diseases to spread. Especially infective diseases such as leptospirosis can infect humans through mere contact with contaminated water; as such, containing their spread comes with significant challenge.

Additionally, the advice provided by health officials is often unhelpful to those who have been affected by the hurricane. Suggestions to drink clean water (or boil water), as well as to avoid eating contaminated food are not particularly helpful to most; those who would consider drinking dirty water or eating contaminated food often do so because it is a last resort, and boiling water is not an easy task for those who have no access to power.

The article’s suggestions on public health directly relate to our model of disease spread, through basic reproductive quantities of epidemics; each epidemic has some R0 that is equal to the number of disease cases expected from every current case. The solutions that public health officials recommend (and are trying to implement so that R0 becomes less than one) directly change the two factors that contribute to the reproductive quantity; k, the number of people each case can potentially spread the disease to, and p, the probability that a person will catch the disease. Most of their measures alter p, and try to directly tackle the infectiousness of disease. Sanitary measures such as ensuring access to clean water as well as rebuilding infrastructure so that medical supplies can reach infected and at risk persons directly lowers the odds that any given person will be infected. Attempts decrowd shelters lowers the k quantity; there will be less people for the infected peoples to meet, so the disease won’t reproduce as easily to the next wave.


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