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Your Environment. Your Health.

Hospitalization Following Extreme Weather, Opportunities for Resilience

Marianthi-Anna Kioumourtzoglou, Sc.D., Francesca Dominici, Ph.D.
Columbia University, Harvard University
P30ES009089, P42ES010349, R01ES030616, R01ES028033, R01ES029950, R01ES028805, R21ES028472

NIEHS-funded researchers observed an increase in respiratory disease and other hospitalizations among older adults following exposure to tropical cyclones, which may help hospitals become better prepared in the future. Tropical cyclone is a generic term used to describe tropical depressions, tropical storms, and hurricanes.

The team used data on 70 million Medicare hospitalizations for individuals 65 years and older and a comprehensive database of county-level local winds to estimate tropical cyclone exposures between 1999 and 2014. Using advanced statistical models, they examined how tropical cyclone exposure related to hospitalizations for 13 different causes.

In the week following tropical cyclone exposure, researchers observed an average increase in hospitalizations from several causes, including respiratory diseases, infectious and parasitic diseases, and injuries. The most pronounced increase was for respiratory diseases, with a 14% average increase in hospitalizations, including a peak 30% increase one day after exposure. Hospitalizations from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease were 45% higher in the week following tropical cyclone exposure. While hospitalizations for chronic conditions, like cancer, and nonemergency hospitalizations declined, the team estimated nearly 17,000 additional hospitalizations overall.

According to the researchers, results demonstrate the need for targeted hospital preparedness strategies before, during, and after tropical cyclones and other extreme weather. For example, hospitals could plan for shelters to provide electricity and common medications, or to quickly prioritize strategies for vulnerable people with certain chronic conditions to find and use resources outside of hospitals.

Citation: Parks RM, Anderson GB, Nethery RC, Navas-Acien A, Dominici F, Kioumourtzoglou MA. 2021. Tropical cyclone exposure is associated with increased hospitalization rates in older adults. Nat Commun 12(1):1545.

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