An astonishing new study claims that hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the category-5 storms that hammered New Orleans in 2005, may have been responsible for up to half of all recorded stillbirths in the city's worst hit areas. Housing displacement due to the storms' aftermath is also in part to blame.
Infamous Hurricane Katrina struck the US state of Louisiana on August 29, 2005, followed by Hurricane Rita a month later on September 24. While Rita was the stronger of the two storms, and the fourth most intense hurricane ever recorded, Katrina was the costliest natural disaster to ever hit the US, according to the Daily Mail.
Both storms caused widespread damage to property and infrastructure and left a trail of death, injury, trauma and destruction in their wake.
Researchers at Colorado State University - who published their findings in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health - used figures from several government agencies, showing that the hurricanes caused damage in 38 out of 64 parishes in the state, with almost 205,000 housing units affected.
In four parishes, more than half of the local housing was damaged, in three others, between 10 percent and 50 percent was damaged.
The researchers calculated the odds of a pregnancy resulting in a stillbirth in damaged and undamaged areas (less than one percent damaged) in the 20 months before and the 28 months after Katrina struck.
The likelihood of a stillbirth was 40 percent higher in regions where 10 to 50 percent of housing stock had been damaged, and more than twice as high in areas where more than half of the housing was hit.
More than that, every 1 percent increase in the extent of damage to local housing was associated with a corresponding 7 percent rise in the number of stillbirths.
Based on the figures, the researchers calculated that of the 410 stillbirths officially recorded in extensively damaged parishes (compared to the 5,194 recorded stillbirths between 1999 and 2009 in Louisiana), up to half may have been directly caused by the hurricanes and the subsequent devastation.
Researchers warn that with climate change hovering over us, we can only expect such devastating storms to become more frequent.
"Insofar as our empirical findings meaningfully generalize in time, the health risks to the unborn and their perinatal development will likely increase with more frequent and intense hurricanes," the researchers said.
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