Residents and relief workers along the oil-ravaged Gulf of Mexico could experience a host of short- and long-term health problems, including respiratory ailments, neurological symptoms, heat exhaustion and mental stress.
Emory University environmental health expert Linda McCauley, RN, PhD, is one of more than a dozen national scientists participating in a two-day Institute of Medicine (IOM) workshop in New Orleans exploring some of the potential health risks that people in the Gulf could face.
Short term, McCauley says, there could be reports of respiratory problems from people whoâ€™ve inhaled gas fumes as well as neurological issues such as dizziness, headaches, nausea and vomiting. In addition, exposure to oil may cause eye and skin irritation.
â€œOn some of the days itâ€™s been so hot theyâ€™ve only allowed workers to work 12 minutes out of the hour,â€ she says. â€œA lot of new workers are being brought in [to clean up the oil]. These are workers who donâ€™t do this for a living and may never have been exposed to this type of heat before and thatâ€™s a serious issue.â€
An increase in the number of the nationâ€™s elderly and the aging population of doctors is causing a doctor shortage in the United States, with estimates that the demand for doctors will outstrip supply by 2020, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.
Fred Sanfilippo, MD, PhD, executive vice president for health affairs at Emory, CEO of Emoryâ€™s Woodruff Health Sciences Center and chairman of Emory Healthcare, says, â€œThere is an ever-changing cycle of shortages. Advances in technology and treatment can reduce or increase demand for specialists needed in one area or another much more quickly than it takes to train or absorb them.â€
For instance, the demand for cardiac surgeons has slowed dramatically as a result of better medications and stents. Changes in insurance and Medicare/Medicaid reimbursement can also impact specialties, he says.
â€œSince medical school graduates now carry so much debt, the specialty they choose is often influenced by potential income, which is most evident in the low numbers going into primary care.â€