Hurricanes Katrina and Rita may have caused up to half of recorded stillbirths in worst hit areas

May 8, 2014, British Medical Journal

Hurricanes Katrina and Rita may have been responsible for up to half of all recorded stillbirths in the worst hit areas, suggests research published online in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health.

And the true fetal death toll may even be higher, because of the displacement of people whose homes and way of life were destroyed, suggest the authors.

Hurricane Katrina struck the state of Louisiana, USA, on August 29 2005, followed by Hurricane Rita a month later on September 24. Katrina was the costliest natural disaster in American history, while Rita was the fourth most intense ever recorded.

Both hurricanes caused widespread damage to property and infrastructure and left a trail of injury, death, and trauma in their wake.

The researchers used composite figures from several government agencies, showing that the hurricanes caused damage in 38 out of 64 areas (parishes) in the state, with almost 205, 000 housing units affected.

In four parishes, more than half of the local housing stock was damaged; in three others, between 10% and 50% was damaged. Elsewhere, the level of damage to housing stock was categorised as 1%-10%, or less than 1%.

The researchers then calculated the odds of a pregnancy resulting in a stillbirth in damaged and undamaged areas (less than 1% damage) in the 20 months before, and the 28 months after, Katrina struck.

But they also looked at all birth data between 1999 and 2009 in Louisiana to gauge usual patterns: during this period, 5194 stillbirths were recorded.

They then used space-time models to assess whether the extent of damage wrought by the hurricanes was linked to the risk of stillbirths in a given area.

Their calculations indicated that the risk of a pregnancy ending in a stillbirth was 40% higher in parishes where 10-50% of housing stock had been damaged, and more than twice as high in areas where over 50% of the housing stock had taken a hit.

After taking account of known risk factors, every 1% increase in the extent of damage to housing stock was associated with a corresponding 7% rise in the number of stillbirths.

Based on these figures, the researchers calculated that of the 410 stillbirths officially recorded in extensively damaged parishes, up to half (117-205) may have been directly caused by the hurricanes and the subsequent devastation.

Their estimates suggest that stillbirths made up around 17.5% to 30.5% of the total death toll in the wake of the hurricanes.

But the risk of may have been even higher, suggest the researchers. In the hardest hit areas, the number of live births was more than 40% lower in 2007 than it was in 2004. And in parishes with more half of the housing stock damaged, the live birth rate fell by 79% in the three months following Katrina.

This "precipitous decline" is likely to reflect the well documented exodus of residents from the coastal parishes of Louisiana into other areas, they suggest.

They point to previously published research, showing a link between maternal stress, depression, and trauma and birth complications, including stillbirths.

And they warn that climate change scientists have predicted an increase in the frequency, intensity, and duration of North Atlantic tropical cyclones like Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

"Insofar as our empirical findings meaningfully generalise in time, the health risks to the unborn and their perinatal development will likely increase with more frequent and intense hurricanes," they write.

Explore further: Mothers with higher BMI have increased risk of stillbirth, infant death

More information: Maternal exposure to hurricane destruction and fetal mortality, Online First, DOI: 10.1136/jech-2014-203807

Related Stories

Mothers with higher BMI have increased risk of stillbirth, infant death

April 15, 2014
Higher maternal body mass index (BMI) before or in early pregnancy is associated with an increased risk of fetal death, stillbirth, and infant death, with women who are severely obese having the greatest risk of these outcomes ...

Stillbirth in Inuit and First Nations women higher than for non-Aboriginal residents

February 19, 2013
Stillbirth rates in First Nations and Inuit populations in Quebec are higher than in the general population, especially in late gestation and at term, found a new study in Canadian Medical Association Journal.

Researchers identify link between fetal growth and risk of stillbirth

April 22, 2014
Researchers from the University of Texas Medical Branch and the Stillbirth Collaborative Research Network have identified a link between stillbirth and either restricted or excessive fetal growth. Findings from the study ...

Stillbirth rates have increased significantly, although spontaneous stillbirth rates have not

April 8, 2013
The rate of stillbirths in British Columbia, Canada, increased by 31% over a decade, although the rate of spontaneous stillbirths did not increase, according to a study published in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal).

Recommended for you

Women run faster after taking newly developed supplement, study finds

January 19, 2018
A new study found that women who took a specially prepared blend of minerals and nutrients for a month saw their 3-mile run times drop by almost a minute.

Americans are getting more sleep

January 19, 2018
Although more than one in three Americans still don't get enough sleep, a new analysis shows first signs of success in the fight for more shut eye. According to data from 181,335 respondents aged 15 and older who participated ...

Wine is good for you—to a point

January 18, 2018
The Mediterranean diet has become synonymous with healthy eating, but there's one thing in it that stands out: It's cool to drink wine.

Sleep better, lose weight?

January 17, 2018
(HealthDay)—Sleeplessness could cost you when it's time to stand on your bathroom scale, a new British study suggests.

Who uses phone apps to track sleep habits? Mostly the healthy and wealthy in US

January 16, 2018
The profile of most Americans who use popular mobile phone apps that track sleep habits is that they are relatively affluent, claim to eat well, and say they are in good health, even if some of them tend to smoke.

Improvements in mortality rates are slowed by rise in obesity in the United States

January 15, 2018
With countless medical advances and efforts to curb smoking, one might expect that life expectancy in the United States would improve. Yet according to recent studies, there's been a reduction in the rate of improvement in ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.