Five years after the September 11 attack, New York City's Health Department yesterday issued long-awaited guidelines to help doctors detect and treat 9/11-related illnesses. It comprises medical advice that is supposed to be very essential for hundreds of ground zero workers now scattered across the United States.
The guidelines to treat post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse and mental illness resulting from 9/11 experiences was previously given by the New York City Health Department. However, health experts, advocates and politicians complained that instructions to treat the physical problems of 9/11 were not given.
Screening for several medical ailments like severe lung disease and gastrointestinal problems has been done since the 2001 attacks, in thousands of firefighters, police officers, construction workers and volunteers who slogged at ground zero.
"Five years after the World Trade Center attacks, many New Yorkers have disaster-associated physical and mental health conditions," said city Health Commissioner Thomas Frieden.
Frieden called the guidelines "an important document to help doctors better recognize and treat these illnesses."
These guidelines could prove helpful in getting appropriate treatment for ground zero workers, who have either relocated, or who came from somewhere else and depend on doctors in other states. These doctors may not be familiar with ground zero symptoms and the most effective therapy.
According to the Associated Press, more than 600 ground zero workers in 34 states have undergone medical screening for their exposure to toxic ground zero dust.
Specific questions to be asked, tests to be given and ways to treat the 9/11 patients have been covered in the guidelines. They also warn about tobacco.
"The risk and severity of many WTC-related diseases are heightened by tobacco use. Exposure to secondhand smoke may also exacerbate WTC-related diseases," the guidelines state. "All WTC-exposed people and their family members who use tobacco should be advised to quit, and all who attempt to quit should be provided with medications to help them quit."
The federal government will mail the medical guidelines or protocol to all the doctors in New York and elsewhere.
This attempt is welcomed by Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y.
"It's about time," said Maloney. "Some might ask why it took so long to get them out or why the city did not do this sooner."
The long-term health effects of 71,000 people, along with those who lived or worked in lower Manhattan at the time of the attacks and the months of cleanup, is being followed by the N.Y.C. run World Trade Center Health Registry.
A major study of thousands of ground zero workers, prepared by Mount Sinai Medical Center, is to be released days before the fifth anniversary of 9/11.
A hearing on 9/11 health issues will be conducted next week by a House committee.