Flesh-eating Bacteria, Cancer-causing Chemicals, and Mold: Harvey and Irma's Lingering Health Threats

Julia Belluz | Vox | September 28, 2017

Doctors are on the lookout for health problems left over by the storm.

In the weeks following Hurricane Irma, parts of Florida have been awash in millions of gallons of sewage. Meanwhile, in Texas, oil refineries and chemical plants have dumped a year’s worth of cancer-causing pollutants into the air following Hurricane Harvey. In both states, doctors are on the lookout for an uptick in respiratory problems, skin infections, and mosquito-borne diseases brought on by the water and mold the storms left behind.

Julia BelluzThanks in part to better emergency planning and response, the immediate death tolls from Harvey and Irma seem to be far lower than those of Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, which took some 1,400 and 117 lives in the US respectively. So far, a total of 80 deaths have been reported in Texas after Harvey, and there have been at least 42 deaths in Florida as a result of Irma.

But health officials are warning about the much longer-term health fallout from this year’s hurricane season. America’s Gulf Coast region perennially records some of the worst health outcomes in the US — and they’ll almost surely be aggravated by the storms that recently slammed the southern states. (That’s not to mention the hurricanes’ hefty price tag, which could total nearly $200 billion.) Here are some of the most severe and worrying health problems that may linger in the southern US, long after the 2017 hurricane season...