American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology Annual Meeting
American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology Annual Meeting
April 06, 2020
2 min read

Hurricane Maria’s impact on respiratory disease lingers

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Hurricane Maria caused some residents of Puerto Rico to experience upper respiratory illness symptoms up to 1 year after the storm struck, according to study findings.

“Environmental emergencies exacerbate many health disparities, including in respiratory-related illnesses,” Félix E. Rivera-Mariani, PhD, principal investigator of respiratory and immunology projects at Larkin University, told Healio Primary Care.

The findings were scheduled to be presented in Philadelphia at the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology Annual Meeting, which was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Researchers collected dust samples from flooded (n = 26) and nonflooded (n = 24) homes and tested them using an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, or ELISA, for the pro-inflammatory cytokines interleukin (IL)-1 beta, IL-6 and IL-8 up to 2 years after the storm.


Rivera-Mariani and colleagues found that the induced concentration of IL-1 beta, IL-6 and IL-8 in homes from flooded areas was 93%, 21% and 363% higher in the first year after the storm compared with the second year. They found “a strong positive correlation” between the induced concentrations of the cytokines in year 1 (P = .04 to P < .001) but not in year 2 or in homes in nonflooded areas.

In a separate study, the researchers reported that some residents who self-reported flooding in their homes experienced more instances of rhinitis, nasal congestion and/or nasal, throat and eye irritation than those who said their homes were not flooded.

Rivera-Mariani said that results from studies that measured the impact of Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy were similar to theirs. However, that does not mean all hurricanes cause the same consequences.

“It is difficult to predict if impacts in the aftermath of other hurricanes will be comparable, since meteorological and atmospheric variabilities also differ in the aftermath of major hurricanes.”

Hurricane season starts June 1 and lasts until Nov. 30, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Rivera-Mariani encouraged physicians to be prepared ahead of time to provide residents interventions that reduce the frequency and control the severity of upper respiratory and lower respiratory illnesses after a serious storm hits. – by Janel Miller


Nasser S, et al. Associations between upper respiratory symptom scores of Puerto Rican residents, pro-inflammatory potential of indoor settled dust, and level of water damage to homes during Hurricane Maria. American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology; March 13-16, 2020 (Conference cancelled).

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Tropical cyclone climatology. Accessed March 18, 2020.

Pellechio S, et al. IL-1, IL-6, and IL-8-inducing potential of indoor settled dust from homes one and two-years post-Hurricane Maria in San Juan, Puerto Rico. American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology; March 13-16, 2020 (Conference cancelled).

Disclosures: Rivera-Marini reports research support from NIH. Healio Primary Care could not confirm the other authors' relevant financial disclosures at the time of publication.