New CDC Study Old News

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This story was written by CBS News investigative producer Michael Rey/> for cbsnews.com.
The day after the CDC said its research showed an increase in health complaints among kids along the Mississippi coast after Katrina, a local pediatrician told CBS News he saw problems brewing more than two years ago.

Dr. Scott Needle was the first doctor to sniff out the health problems in the FEMA trailers. In late 2005, the pediatrician who had a practice in Katrina-ravaged Hancock County, Mississippi noticed a trend among his young patients who were complaining of breathing problems. Many of them were living in the travel trailers.

The CDC studied medical records of 144 children in Hancock County and found an increase in the number of complaints of lower respiratory illnesses, like asthma and pneumonia. But the CDC concluded that from the available evidence they can't explain the increase. Dr. Needle, who testified before Congress about the issue last year, said this gets to his larger concern about the way the Mississippi Health Department and the federal government have dealt with the issue of children's health and the trailers.

Needle says despite his warnings, the state waited a full year before taking any action. "I contacted the health department in December 2006 to request that they look into this or go to the CDC if they couldn't. In [the new report] the CDC says they received a call from [the health department] in October 2007," Needle told CBS News. The CDC says the study results do not say anything about children outside Hancock County. Needle feels it could have said more about the kids in the county.

The CDC pulled patient records from four medical practices (labeled A through D in the study) and the Hancock County Hospital to find patients who fit the right parameters: aged 2-12, lived in the county before and after the storm and had gone to the doctor before the storm complaining of breathing issues.

Dr. Needle was practice A. According to the study, "From Practice A's electronic records, we identified more than 600 patients as potential participants based on their visit dates. We sampled every fifth record from the list…" That left just 71 of his own patients that the CDC decided fit the study.

"If I sat down for a weekend or a week and looked through all of my records… I would have had more than 71. Out of my own charts, if you start including secondary diagnosis, there could be as many as 5 times that number that could fit the study criteria."
By Michael Rey
  • Michael Rey

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