Iowans are returning home from helping hurricane survivors in the Gulf Coast region and bring back some problems of their own. Doctor Mary Gilchrist, head of the University Hygienic Laboratory, speaks at Drake University in Des Moines tonight (Wednesday) about the infectious aftermath of natural disasters.
She says some infections are associated with floods, and it was a flood situation down there, “post-hurricane.” Gilchrist says there were saltwater microorganisms getting into people’s wounds and causing very serious infections, and lots of other bacteria and viruses that caused illnesses. Gilchrist says some of those included food-poisoning from lack of refrigeration.
After last winter’s tsunami in southeast Asia, she says there were different kinds of infections from local germs there. Some of those germs were very antibiotic-resistant, and Gilchrist expects students in Drake’s pharmacy program to be very interested in those tough bugs found in the wake of the tsunami and also the hurricane.
Dr. Gilchrist says Iowa’s involvement with gulf coast public health hasn’t ended yet. The state lab at Ankeny is testing every newborn in the state of Louisiana, as that state’s public healthlab in New Orleans is still shut down after the hurricane there. For Iowa, it means 2 and-a-half times the normal work at the newborn screening area of the state lab. Gilchrist divides her time between the Hygienic Lab in Oakdale and the new state medical examiner’s headquarters north of Des Moines. Gilchrist praises the workers for increasing their workload, and says new people have been hired. “We have a wonderful situation making sure that babies in Louisiana are as healthy as those in Iowa.”
Public health and forensic labs were moved this year from old quarters in the state capitol complex in Des Moines to a big new campus in Ankeny, and Gilchrist says it’s a good place to be doing the big project. People who’ve never done newborn screening before are helping, and some have even come from Iowa City to do the screening. She says they “couldn’t celebrate more, having this great new building.” Her presentation begins at 6 tonight in the Hall of Pharmacy and Science at Drake University in Des Moines. Gilchrist also teaches at the University of Iowa’s College of Public Health.