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Toxic town now ripe for disease

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With toxic water full of raw sewage and corpses covering 80 percent of New Orleans, officials fear that widespread disease could be a further tragic legacy of Hurricane Katrina.

"We are gravely concerned about the potential for cholera, typhoid and dehydrating diseases that could come as a result of the stagnant water and the conditions," Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt said yesterday.

Any wounds sustained during the storm could become seriously infected and turn gangrenous as stay-behind residents wade through the dirty water, officials said.

Health experts also are worried about the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning of people using generators and makeshift stoves.

They said they are also working on a mosquito-abatement program to prevent an outbreak of West Nile virus and dengue fever.

Speaking at a joint news conference with Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and other officials, Leavitt declared a public health emergency in the Gulf Coast states hit by the storm.

Although disease outbreaks in hurricane-hit areas are uncommon, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the rates of already-existing disease can increase due to unsanitary conditions.

"We're delivering medical supplies, facilities and professionals into the Gulf region," Leavitt said.

"We're focused on the immediate health-care needs of people in the region, augmenting state and local efforts."

Leavitt also confirmed that the feds are in the process of "preparing for public-health challenges that may emerge, such as disease and contamination."

Most of the disease problems so far have been stomach ailments caused by eating spoiled food and drinking contaminated water, a Louisiana health official said. With Post Wire Services

Copyright 2004 NYP Holdings, Inc. All rights reserved.

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