NEW ORLEANS - A serious medical condition that can kill, was worse for Hurricane Isaac than it was for either Hurricanes Katrina or Gustav.
That's because people stayed for the storm and then had to cope with power outages. Even doctors were surprised by the number of people affected.
The huge hyperbaric oxygen chamber at West Jefferson Medical Center was busy. Since Hurricane Isaac, two dozen people have suffered from carbon monoxide poisoning from gas or gasoline powered generators.
"Running gas-powered generators to replace the power outage in their homes and just putting them in poorly ventilated areas either inside a carport or garage with the door all the way down or partially down (caused some of the problems). In one instance, the generator was underneath an elevated house and the gas was drawn up through the floor boards," explained Dr. Sarah Parks, an LSU Health Sciences Center hyperbaric medicine specialist and board certified surgeon.
An entire family of eight, spanning three generations, was being treated for poisonings. They range from four to 70-year-olds. They seem to come in at a certain time of day.
"We usually get a flurry of patients in in the morning because they've gone to sleep at night and somebody will wake up nauseated or vomiting in their bed," added Dr. Parks.
Patients are treated with at least three dives, as they are called, in the West Jefferson hyperbaric chamber. That helps removed the carbon monoxide in the blood, faster.
Dr. Parks can talk to the patients through a microphone and can watch them on a control panel monitor.
"You're back on oxygen for another 30-minute session and then we'll be ready to leave bottom and come to surface," she tells a patient over the two-way radio.
"Forty-five percent of people who are not treated in a hyperbaric chamber after a carbon monoxide exposure are at higher risk to have permanent or long term neurological damage, but that percentage is lowered to only 20 percent or even 10 percent if those poisoned have the treatments. The problem is a lot of people go to the E.R., get quick oxygen and leave, rather than coming back for a series of follow up hyperbaric treatments.
"Two to six weeks later, they might start noticing neuralgic damage and then it's much harder to treat at that point. And that might manifest itself as a hearing loss or Parkinson's type tremors or it may be something a little more subtle like learning disability or memory problems," said Dr. Parks.
Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include:
Flu-like symptoms, a headache, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea.
With higher exposure, people can feel dizziness and start acting clumsily and stumbling.
The next stage would be a coma or heart failure.