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No Such Thing as 'Katrina Cough,' Louisiana Health Officials Say

A study of more than 50,000 emergency room visits after Hurricane Katrina indicates that there wasn't any condition that could be considered a "Katrina cough," Louisiana's state epidemiologist says.

There wasn't any significant increase in New Orleans-area emergency-room visits by patients with respiratory problems such as cough, sore throat, chest congestion, wheezing or sinus drip, Dr. Raoult Ratard said Tuesday.

"The rates of respiratory illness occurring here are not different from the rates of these illnesses occurring in other parts of the state and the country," he said in a news release.

The Office of Public Health studied emergency room visits from October through March because of news reports quoting some doctors as saying the hurricane's after effects included increased colds, cough and other respiratory conditions among residents returning to the area.

"There is no such thing as a single condition such as 'Katrina Cough' that would be different from the bacterial and viral respiratory conditions we would expect to see at that time of year," Ratard said.

After the hurricane, he said, the state expanded its electronic disease-tracking system, which monitors patient visits and alerts medical officials of disease clusters.

"No such outbreak occurred because of Hurricane Katrina," Ratard said.

He said state epidemiologists and medical staff from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tracked more emergency room visits in the area from October 2005 through March 2006, and also studied patient visits to area clinics and medical triage sites. The study looked for patients seeking treatment for medical conditions such as cough, sinus drip, sneezing, wheezing, chest congestion or sore throat.

The study did show that people with a history of conditions such as asthma or seasonal allergies were more likely to have symptoms such as coughing or wheezing because of exposure to dust and mold.

That was expected, and OPH "consistently" issued advisories for such patients to avoid extended periods in moldy rooms or houses, and to take precautions when cleaning their homes, Ratard said.