Six truckloads of medical materials from the Strategic National Stockpile are headed to hurricane-stricken Louisiana and Mississippi, and 10 temporary hospitals should open at area military bases by Friday night.
The government said emergency medical shelters are being established at Fort Polk, La., the Mississippi Air National Guard Station in Jackson, Eglin Air Force Base near Pensacola, Fla., and the Naval Air Station in Meridian, Miss.
The shelters are in addition to one at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge that as of Thursday morning had examined and treated over 800 patients and admitted 95 for in-patient care, said Health and Human Services spokeswoman Christina Pearson.
The 10 additional shelters at military facilities together will have 2,500 beds for patients most in need, but also can offer outpatient care. They are the first of up to 40 emergency medical shelters that HHS plans to establish in the area in coming days.
The first stockpile shipments began arriving in Louisiana Thursday, with a mix of portable oxygen tanks, first-aid supplies, patient clothing and some medications, Pearson said.
The drug industry formally asked President Bush and HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt Thursday for a list of most-needed medications to ship to the region, something emergency medical workers haven't yet been able to compile.
"I've got companies with planes standing by, trucks standing by," said Billy Tauzin, a former Louisiana congressman who now heads the trade group Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.
Among the pledged relief is 40,000 vials of insulin from Eli Lilly & Co., and 75,000 respirators shipped by 3M, PhRMA said.
At crowded shelters, rescue workers have three priorities: treating hurricane-related wounds, infections that can spread in the shelters' crowded conditions, and treating the underlying medical conditions of people cut off from their usual care. Insulin is a prime example: Many diabetics need daily doses to survive, but it must be kept cool, meaning even refugees who saved some supplies may not be able to use them after days with no electricity.
Other medicines commonly used for flood refugees, according to Stanford University emergency medicine specialist Dr. Eric A. Weiss, are:
—Antibiotic ointments, such as Polysporin, to prevent infection in cuts caused by debris, especially on the feet, legs and hands.
—Tetanus shots, for people who sustained cuts or other wounds if they haven't had the vaccination within the last 10 years.
—Antibiotics, particularly cephalosporins such as Keflex. In particular, staph and strep infections are common in wounds and then can spread in crowded shelters. Respiratory infections are common, too, but antibiotics usually aren't needed. Most cases of diarrhea will be caused by viruses, but antibiotics are used for those with bloody diarrhea or other signs that the infection is caused by bacteria, such as E. coli.
—Rehydrating solutions, to give diarrhea patients the right mix of water and electrolytes; antidiarrheal agents such as immodium; and anti-nausea drugs such as phenergan.
—Pain medicines ranging from ibuprofen and acetaminophen to stronger Vicodin.
—Children's versions of painkillers, as well as the frequent pediatric antibiotic amoxicillin.
Beyond that starter kit, shelters will need medicines people use to treat common underlying medical conditions — such as blood pressure pills, blood-thinning warfarin, diabetes drugs, anti-seizure medicine for epilepsy.