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Cases of "Katrina Cough" Reported in Cities Hit by Storm

I’m Steve Ember with the VOA Special English Health Report.

Recovery efforts continue in the southern American states hit by Hurricane Katrina in August. But health officials are investigating reports of what is being called "Katrina cough." It is believed to be caused by reactions to the mold and dust left after the storm. The effects are said to be similar to those of a cold, but with a dry cough that will not go away.

Health officials say they do not yet know how widespread the problem is. But since Katrina, doctors in the hardest-hit areas say they have seen a twenty-five percent increase in some kinds of problems. These include sinus headaches, runny noses and sore throats.

The city of New Orleans, in Louisiana, appears to have the most cases. It had the worst damage from Katrina. More than one thousand people died in Louisiana. Officials say the biggest public health concern there now is mold.

Mold is a fungus. It is everywhere in nature. Mold can grow almost anywhere, indoors or outdoors. It grows best in warm, wet environments. New Orleans has higher-than-normal levels of mold because of its climate. But homes that flooded in the storm are now covered in mold.

Mold can be a health risk especially for people with conditions such as asthma, allergies or weakened immune systems. Mold spreads and reproduces by making spores. It can affect people who breathe it, swallow it or get it on their skin. Some molds can cause skin disorders or lung infections.

Public health officials have advised people to wear gloves and face coverings if they decide to return to their homes in New Orleans. But some officials have urged people with conditions such as asthma or weakened defenses not to return to the city.

Government officials have said repeatedly that the air quality in areas affected by Katrina is safe. Some people, however, say there has not been enough testing for levels of mold carried in the air.

Officials from the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are studying the issue. They are working with state health officials in Louisiana and Mississippi to see how widespread the so-called Katrina cough is. The agency says it is observing health care centers to learn if there is an unusual increase in sick people.

This VOA Special English Health Report was written by Cynthia Kirk. Internet users can read and listen to our reports at I’m Steve Ember.