While we are all very aware of the direct health impacts caused by hurricanes, it is much more complicated to estimate the number of indirect deaths caused by storm events, from causes such as interruption of ongoing care, home accidents etc. In a recent project supported by the CDC and published in the August 2017 issue of American Journal of Public Health, a team including Biostats alumna, Soyeon Kim, ScD ’96, compared deaths occurring in New Jersey in the month and quarter following Sandy with patterns from other years.
The team found that mortality generally increased in the month of the storm, with the greatest rates of increase in the areas that experienced the greatest impact of Sandy. They also noted distinct patterns within cause of death. While deaths due to cardiovascular disease increased slightly in the month and quarter of the storm, mortalities due to infectious diseases and noninfectious respiratory diseases increased 20% and 24%, respectively, during the quarter of the storm. The largest increases in mortality were due to unintentional injuries, increasing by 23% for the month but only 10% for the quarter, suggesting most of the increase was due to immediate storm effects.
The team also made some potentially important discoveries for public health policy, finding that mortality in persons aged 76 years and older increased over that expected in the month and in the quarter of the storm. Estimates of deaths due to unintentional injury among the elderly was a 33% excess in the month and 26% in the quarter of the storm. This suggests that mitigation efforts and/or support services may be needed for at least the quarter following a storm, particularly amongst the elderly and those living in heavily affected areas.
Dr. Kim was an Associate Professor of Biostatistics at Rutgers School of Public Health during the Sandy study and is currently Senior Research Scientist at Frontier Science Foundation.