Objective: Little is known about the effects of disaster exposure and intensity on the development of mental disorders among pregnant women. The aim of this study was to examine the effect of exposure to Hurricane Katrina on mental health in pregnant women.
Design: Prospective cohort epidemiological study.
Setting: Tertiary hospitals in New Orleans and Baton Rouge, U.S.A.
Participants: Women who were pregnant during Hurricane Katrina or became pregnant immediately after the hurricane.
Main outcome measures: Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression.
Results: The frequency of PTSD was higher in women with high hurricane exposure (13.8 percent) than women without high hurricane exposure (1.3 percent), with an adjusted odds ratio (aOR) of 16.8 (95% confidence interval: 2.6-106.6) after adjustment for maternal race, age, education, smoking and alcohol use, family income, parity, and other confounders. The frequency of depression was higher in women with high hurricane exposure (32.3 percent) than women without high hurricane exposure (12.3 percent), with an aOR of 3.3 (1.6-7.1). Moreover, the risk of PTSD and depression increased with an increasing number of severe experiences of the hurricane.
Conclusions: Pregnant women who had severe hurricane experiences were at a significantly increased risk for PTSD and depression. This information should be useful for screening pregnant women who are at higher risk of developing mental disorders after a disaster.