Syndromic surveillance at a long term shelter for persons displaced by hurricanes Katrina and Rita conducted by the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District

Cara J Hausler, The University of Texas School of Public Health


Background. Beginning September 2, 2005, San Antonio area shelters received approximately 12,700 evacuees from Hurricane Katrina. Two weeks later, another 12,000 evacuees from Hurricane Rita arrived. By mid-October, 2005, the in-shelter population was 1,000 people. There was concern regarding the potential for spread of infectious diseases in the shelter. San Antonio Metropolitan Health District (SAMHD) established a syndromic surveillance system with Comprehensive Health Services (CHS) who provided on-site health care. CHS was in daily contact with SAMHD to report symptoms of concern until the shelter closed December 23, 2005. Study type. The objective of this study was to assess the methods used and describe the practical considerations involved in establishing and managing a syndromic surveillance system, as established by the SAMHD in the long-term shelter clinic maintained by CHS for the hurricane evacuees. Methods. Information and descriptive data used in this study was collected from multiple sources, primarily from the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District’s 2006 Report on Syndromic Surveillance of a Long-Term Shelter by Hausler & Rohr-Allegrini. SAMHD and CHS staff ensured that each clinic visit was recorded by date, demographic information, chief complaint and medical disposition. Logs were obtained daily and subsequently entered into a Microsoft Access database and analyzed in Excel. Results. During a nine week period, 4,913 clinic visits were recorded, reviewed and later analyzed. Repeat visits comprised 93.0% of encounters. Chronic illnesses contributed to 21.7% of the visits. Approximately 54.0% were acute care encounters. Of all encounters, 17.3% had infectious disease potential as primarily gastrointestinal and respiratory syndromes. Evacuees accounted for 86% and staff 14% of all visits to the shelter clinic. There were 782 unduplicated individuals who sought services at the clinic, comprised of 63% (496) evacuees and 36% (278) staff members. Staff were more likely to frequent the clinic but for fewer visits each. Conclusion. The presence of health care services and syndromic surveillance provided the opportunity to recognize, document and intervene in any disease outbreak at this long-term shelter. Constant vigilance allowed SAMHD to inform and reassure concerned people living and working in the shelter and living outside the shelter.

Subject Area

Public health|Epidemiology

Recommended Citation

Hausler, Cara J, "Syndromic surveillance at a long term shelter for persons displaced by hurricanes Katrina and Rita conducted by the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District" (2010). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI1474833.