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Delaware Health Alert Network #47

September 19, 2003 1:52 pm

Health Advisory

People in the path of a hurricane or other natural emergency may experience stress following the event as well as days, weeks or even months later. Delaware's Division of Public Health (DPH) reminds Delawareans that stress commonly affects children, adults and seniors during and after emergencies or disasters.

Hurricanes and other natural disasters can result in grief and loss -- normal and universally human reactions. A natural disaster can effect households and communities with injury, loss of life, home and possessions. Adults may feel sad, angry, irritable or depressed.

Short-term stress symptoms include high blood pressure, ulcers, and heart problems. Chronic stress results in frequent colds, an increase in allergy symptoms, low energy and fatigue. Stressed people act unusually anxious, suspicious, depressed, or indecisive, and may use or increase their consumption of drugs or alcohol.

Stressful situations may impact children and adults differently. Children may be frightened, sad, anxious or clingy. Feelings of anger, fear and anxiety are all normal and appropriate reactions to tragic incidents. Assure children they are safe, and encourage them to talk about their feelings and reactions to the situation. Answer their questions honestly and use words and concepts they can understand. Avoid situations that place them at risk and encourage them with play, engage in arts and crafts activities, or read. The American Psychiatric Association suggests that families talk with their children about the disaster but limit television news reports on the event.

Elderly citizens who are stressed may exhibit symptoms including a fast decline in their physical health, changes in behavior such as complaining more about physical aches and pains, and childish, passive or clinging behavior. They may act confused, have difficulty concentrating, or suffer memory loss.

To reduce stress, DPH recommends:

  • Reducing the consumption of sugar, caffeine, fatty foods and especially alcohol.
  • Take care of personal issues one at a time and a day at a time. Don't get over tired.
  • Be patient with others.
  • Talk with friends, family and clergy, or seek support from community organizations and health care professionals. A support network is essential in a disaster situation.
  • Realize that it will take time to restore normalcy, both physically and emotionally.

Adults could experience depression or grief over losses related to hurricanes. Symptoms of depression include: sleeping difficulties, prolonged crying episodes, loss of appetite, headaches, digestive problems, or an inability to experience previously enjoyed activities. People should ask for help if they feel depressed for a prolonged period of time.

Usually the signs of stress disappear slowly, without psychological assistance. If they last longer than 30 days or are very intense, causing difficulty in handling everyday situations, DPH advises those people to contact their health care provider for assistance. If the situation is critical, seek emergency care.

For more information or other public health concerns, contact the Division of Public Health at 1-888-459-2943.

Categories of Health Alert messages:

  • Health Alert: Conveys the highest level of importance; warrants immediate action or attention.
  • Health Advisory: Provides important information for a specific incident or situation; may not require immediate action.
  • Health Update: Provides updated information regarding an incident or situation; unlikely to require immediate action.
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