Toxic gumbo poses major health concerns

"We're used to covering the news and now we've become the news."

Meredith Mendez and her husband work for television stations in New Orleans. Like their stations, their home was flooded by the witch's brew that now floods the streets of the "Big Easy."

"We've seen satellite photos of our home and we know we have at least six feet of water inside out home," says Mendez.

She's not sure she'll be able to salvage anything inside. But the toxic gumbo is not only a threat to personal property, it's a huge health concern too. People who have floated, waded, or even touched the water could be in danger.

"But I think the risk of any sort of outbreak of anything is very unlikely in this community," says Michael Threlkeld, MD.

He's an infectious disease expert in Memphis who's been keeping a close eye on the situation in New Orleans. He believes the most serious threat to the mid-south may be Hepatitis A. It can live in contaminated water.

"Hepatitis A can be transmitted by close contact--but for the most part--these things won't be spread once a person is out of the affected area," says Threlkeld.

Area shelters providing clean drinking water to evacuees may be the first line of defense.

"Once they're in a safe and sanitary environment in another community, the risk of a widespread outbreak is minimal," says Threlkeld.

Evacuees who have been diagnosed with problems in Memphis are being treated at local hospitals and by medical volunteers at the American Red Cross.