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November 15th, 2011
04:09 PM ET

Health threats loom at Occupy protests

The Empowered Patient is a regular feature from CNN Senior Medical News Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen that helps put you in the driver's seat when it comes to health care.

As fall turns to winter, health problems could plague Occupy protests across the country, infectious disease experts say.

In New York City, police removed Occupy Wall Street protesters from Zuccotti Park, citing an “increasing health and fire safety hazard to those camped in the park.” A judge subsequently issued an injunction allowing the protestors back in.

Occupy movements across the country face three challenges: winter, sanitation, and crowding, says Dr. Buddy Creech, an infectious disease expert and associate director of the Vanderbilt Vaccine Program.

“All of these coming together could be a nightmare,” Creech says.

As flu season sets in, flu and other viruses could spread easily, especially as people huddle close together in tents to keep warm.

Feces and trash also present potential health hazards, as do heaters inside tents. In Salt Lake City last week, a man was found dead in a tent with a propane heater. Police there say the cause of death was carbon monoxide poisoning and a drug overdose.

There are ways to control these threats, Creech says. Flu shots, for example, have been offered at some Occupy protests.

"Vaccinating against influenza would be one of the most important things you can do,” Creech says.

It would also help if sick protesters leave if they feel sick, even if they want to stay.

“Sometimes public health and individual liberties are at odds,” Creech says.


soundoff (51 Responses)
  1. Guest

    Flu shots? Really? This is part of the Big Pharma push that this movement should be exposing.

    http://healthfreedoms.org/2011/10/10/flu-shots-have-more-than-250x-epa-mercury-safety-limit/

    November 15, 2011 at 17:58 | Report abuse | Reply
    • BobInCT

      Good idea. Modern medicine is so over-rated. Let the stupid die of the plague. It's one way to clean up these pig stys.

      November 15, 2011 at 21:39 | Report abuse |
    • UraTard

      Love to see opinions expressed from all sides. Now that we have a representative from the idiots we need some people willing to espouse a counter opinion.

      November 16, 2011 at 08:02 | Report abuse |
    • sumguy

      Moronic statement. The life expectancy in the U.S. has increase from 48 to 75 years in the age of modern medicine and "big pharma". It continues to rise. Get a clue.

      November 16, 2011 at 08:45 | Report abuse |
    • Oakspar

      If the flu shots were toxic, then giving them to the jobless hippies would be a good thing. Solving unemployment from the bottom up (courtesy of the 53% of us paying federal income tax). Of course, you are likely the same nut who thinks that they exist to "soft kill" off the Boomers at 80 and save Social Security.

      Sadly, though, that would do very little, since these occupy groups are usually only a few dozen strong.

      Of course, though, winter is coming and that will end the hippiefest. You have to love winter – God's way of culling the weak.

      November 16, 2011 at 09:10 | Report abuse |
    • Leo

      Okay, "Guest," listen up:

      I'm a fairly liberal person. I do support the goals of OWS, and feel that corporations need to stop leeching off the government while individual citizens suffer. However, I have NO tolerance for anti-vax nutbags. Flu shots are NOT poison. Flu shots save lives. Flu shots lessen the severity of flu cases, prevent the spread of the virus, and save many people from pain and misery that comes with the real flu (as opposed to "just a cold").

      Likewise, other vaccines have saved countless millions of people from polio, measles, mumps, rubella, and smallpox. Your baseless anti-vaccine conspiracy theories are downright dangerous to society.

      I'm all for freedom, and a staunch defender of First Amendment rights, but again... I have no tolerance for anti-vaccine nuts who put other people's lives and health at risk. Sorry, NO.

      November 16, 2011 at 12:21 | Report abuse |
    • ADiff

      Oh brother! Please give that old whackaloon "Big Pharma" conspiracy theory BS a break. It's become very, very tiresome to hear the same baseless debunked BS over and over and.....

      November 16, 2011 at 14:05 | Report abuse |
  2. Selena

    It was recently reported in the news that flu shots are 60% less effective than the drug industry wants us to believe.

    November 15, 2011 at 23:08 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Mitch

      Yes, go back to your lives citizens. Do not fight for your rights or your country. You might get the flu.

      November 16, 2011 at 08:07 | Report abuse |
    • Mandeep

      Resident Evil 2 il primo capitolo della serie al quale ho iocgato, ed attualmente il mio preferito. Senza dubbi. Premesso questo, la mia opinione una: per quanto il comparto grafico sia notevolissimo per il Wii, la moderna mania di creare sparatutto su binari odiosa. Ok, una categoria di gioco che piace, senza dubbio. Ma non per Resident Evil. Per chi si chiedesse il perch (non credo molti, ma comunque mai dire mai), ricorderei al mondo (e alla capcom) che resident evil un alternanza di zombie lenti e macchinosi ed enigmi, enigmi, enigmi. Ed proprio quest'altalenarsi di gameplay (nonch la tensione onnipresente) che dava spessore alla serie. Ora riducono tutto ad uno spara e ammazza. Banale.

      April 8, 2012 at 02:12 | Report abuse |
  3. Dave

    Public health is defined by individual liberties. The two are only in conflict when the media needs an excuse to discredit a movement they know is impacting more Americans than the news.

    November 16, 2011 at 08:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. dave

    Swine flu shot almost killed me. Never have, never will get another. Never got the flu for over 30 years...

    November 16, 2011 at 08:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. dave

    Government regulating our daily actions again "for our own good"...what a crock!

    November 16, 2011 at 08:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Glades2

    Frigid weather is beginning to move east from the Rockies, and it's probably only another week or two before the northeast feels this extreme cold – perhaps it's time for these people to go home and wait until Spring. If they really want their voice to be heard, they need to do it at the cash register – millions of people boycotting big business will definitely be heard, but camp-out situations such as this usually aren't...

    November 16, 2011 at 08:18 | Report abuse | Reply
    • JJ

      The most sensible comment i have heard.

      November 16, 2011 at 08:49 | Report abuse |
  7. Corbin

    A health hazard that ironically wouldn't exist if you allowed these protestors to keep their generators... which were removed for "health and safety" violations, another irony.

    November 16, 2011 at 08:19 | Report abuse | Reply
    • welshmj

      The point of prohibiting generators is to keep people from huddling in tents with heaters to keep warm. This "huddling" (person-to-person contact) spreads disease. I can only assume you are one of those people who think being cold causes illness which it definitely DOES NOT. Bacteria and Viruses which spread human to human (and not spontaneously generated in a cold person) do cause illness.

      The other issue is that the bathrooms in these parks were not designed for protests like these. As a result they are overflowing with fecal matter and urine which spread E. Coli and other really nasty bacteria and viruses. With people living in the park, not showering and probably not washing their hands regularly, illness will become rampant very soon.

      November 16, 2011 at 09:32 | Report abuse |
  8. Epidi

    Typical scare tactics to make this go away or throw it in a bad light. Although it's true that virus & flu can spread in close quarters, I have the same chance of catching a bug in the office I work in sharing the same air & space with the people there every day.

    November 16, 2011 at 08:19 | Report abuse | Reply
    • b

      Well, not the same chance Epidi, your immune system is a little more compromised in sub-freezing temperatures than it is in a climate-controlled 70 degree office space

      November 16, 2011 at 08:34 | Report abuse |
    • welshmj

      also a tent is MUCH closer quarters than your office.

      November 16, 2011 at 09:34 | Report abuse |
    • Teararound

      People camping outside are less likely to get sick as they have fresh air (as much as you can in a city) and not the tight office environment. Also I understood that some occupy groups had portable pottys. I am sure washing hands and taking showers can be a problem. But, there are chemical hand washing pumps. One group I know of prepared food for the group in an indoor facility that was donated. In some pictures I saw of occupy areas there was not the mess except after the police attacked the protestors and tore down tents.

      November 16, 2011 at 11:13 | Report abuse |
  9. Steven R Vogel

    You'd think there is going to be a cholera epidemic by these retarded attempts at scaring the Occupy protesters and consumers of news. If it happens, then report it journalists. It's not your job to speculate or make up stuff.

    November 16, 2011 at 08:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Sam

    That's too bad. I hope none of them die.

    November 16, 2011 at 08:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Jamz

    This is your conscience!

    You are feeling overcrowded. You are feeling like the air is infested with viruses. You are feeling scared that the Winter is coming. You are very concerned about trash pickup day. You will feel safer if you just go home.

    Are they listening? No? Hello?

    November 16, 2011 at 08:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Randy

    So someone was found dead in a tent, and the causes were carbon monoxide AND a drug overdose? How did they determine that he died from both? I'll bet the drug overdose is what did him in, not the heater. They are just trying to scare people to make them not want to occupy any place. What a weak way to report a man's death.

    November 16, 2011 at 08:46 | Report abuse | Reply
    • welshmj

      That is almost definitely true. However people die all the time from accidentally lighting tents (which are VERY flammable) on fire with generators or propane heaters. People also have been known to die from carbon monoxide poisoning due to these heaters being used in unventilated tents. Maybe this guy didn't die from it, but someone will very soon if this isn't stopped. Or someone will light their tent on fire and it will light all the other tents on fire and we will start blaming police for not pulling these down sooner.

      The protesters can protest during the day just as effectively without their tents and generators. I'm not even sure I understand the point of staying out there all night. This type of protest has never been effective.

      November 16, 2011 at 09:40 | Report abuse |
  13. The Hat of the Three-Toed Man-Baby

    I say, let them fester. Put up a bubble and let these nitwits die slowly.

    November 16, 2011 at 08:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. zionismsucks

    zionists = parasitic financiers = murderous warmongers = corporate media spinmeisters

    November 16, 2011 at 08:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. roy

    Maybe the super rich will feel a little sorry for the occupy protesters and donate a little money for influenza vacinations as long as they can take the donation as a tax deduction.

    November 16, 2011 at 08:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. power4things

    The laws of physics will not likely suspend themselves because you think you are right ... everybody thinks they are "right". Starts the blame game, Big Pharma, government, all the favorite boogy men. Puts these Woodstock love-ins in perspective. "I can wrap my recreation in a civil liberties wrapper, and it's sure is more fun than working!"

    November 16, 2011 at 08:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Maryann

    So, CNN, did your corporate overlords decide that this was news you needed to report? Can't wait to see what else they tell you is 'news'. You used to be a real news organization, now you're just the mouthpiece for Corporate America.

    November 16, 2011 at 09:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. NODAT1

    Drug overdose and carbon monoxide poising, Should i act surprised just look at the group? I guess reading warning labels on the heater is way to advanced for the college students!!!!!!!!!

    November 16, 2011 at 09:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. GoHome

    Feces? Really?

    November 16, 2011 at 09:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Joshua Ludd

    Perhaps these things wouldn't be such a problem if the Occupy protests were not under constant siege by the police there would be better regulation of things like sanitation and the like.

    November 16, 2011 at 09:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. raul

    and airports arent lol this is B.S. the only way to quiet these people wether ther right or wrong is to claim public health. well i dont see anyone yelling about the aids epidemic killing our youth. or what not..

    November 16, 2011 at 09:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. ricardo

    health concerns eh? how come we aren't concerned with the health issues surrounding poverty?

    November 16, 2011 at 09:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Ron

    I'm sure Wall Street and its government cronies are deeply concerned about the health and welfare of these folks! This pretext for closing down a movement that threatens the ill-gotten gains of the corporate rich is so transparent it is laughable.

    November 16, 2011 at 09:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. tippy tom

    Yeah, MAAAAAAN...the MAN is just trying to stomp on your rights, MAAAAAN. Power to the people MAAAAAAN! We can change the world if we stop showering, carry ironic signs, and sleep in tents. The MAN will be sorry he tried to keep me from killing myself, MAAAAAAAN!!!

    November 16, 2011 at 11:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. tippy tom

    Hey, I have an idea...I'm going to stop SHAVING! That will show the MAN I mean business!! Also, SINGING...yeah, I'll get people to sing and chant some DEFIANT tunes!! Oh boy, the MAN is in for it now!!

    November 16, 2011 at 11:15 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Uraiwan

      I believe the Occupy evmmoent is something the country needs to give the majority a voice at least as loud as the Limbaugh-types; however, I'm disappointed in some of the Lincoln Occupiers who have chosen to undermine the Occupy purpose by campaigning for legalizing marijuana. I could care less if marijuana is legal or not, but these actions by a few Occupiers are just reinforcing the belief that many have that Occupiers are lazy hippies. If you're campaigning for something, focus on that one thing. Don't make it into a Christmas tree for other things, else your efforts will be for naught

      April 14, 2012 at 15:44 | Report abuse |
  26. larry5

    I'm happy that the liberal Democrats are showing how they would manage the affairs of state. Their acts amount to terrorism when they shut down business, destroy property and disrupt commerce and the plans to shut down the New York subway system do not promote their message, whatever that message may be.

    November 16, 2011 at 13:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. sorta

    and terrorism used to be under the definition of a crime. since that has changed, we need to call them something other than terrorists. i got it: mischievous loitering... terrorism, pffffffff

    November 16, 2011 at 15:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. 3whtsiberians

    Work, schools, malls, hospitals, etc. are all crowded and spread the flu. What should we do; everyone stay home in isolation until flu season passes. I can remember when the swine flu began in Mexico and a lot of people were dying there; our government did nothing to stop the illegals from bringing it over the borders. I live in a university town. We have football games in pouring cold rain. People get sick afterwards. No one advocates shutting down the game. You take away their generators and force them in the cold; then tell them how dangerous it is. The police were reportedly throwing people over barricades and beating them. I guess that was for their safety as well. Propaganda.

    November 16, 2011 at 15:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. feces?

    Feces? really, feces? Do they think these people are sh@#ing in their hands for fun? I like how they just slipped that little tidbit in their, typical slight of hand, just a bunch of hippies pooping in the park they'll be gone before December, get back to your normal lives everybody. Just in the last week we've seen Jack Abramoff state that the best way to buy a politician is to offer them a job after their term and that he had at least 100 of them in his pocket, and nothing has changed since he went to jail that would stop this. Meanwhile 60 minutes exposed that members of congress are allowed to trade on inside information. In whose interest are they working? This is not a partisan issue and those of you who continue to follow partisan dogma only play into the hands of the powerful elite who seek to exploit you for their shallow interests.

    November 16, 2011 at 16:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. davey

    a flu shot from a multi-billion doaar pahrmaceutical company? shirley you jest.

    November 16, 2011 at 16:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. Voltairine

    Unless some flu comes along that's established as being deadly, I do not get flu shots. If I get the flu, I'm obviously not happy, but I'll put up with that as I prefer that my immune system fights back, to include the natural process of finding and attacking the virus, even if it is unpleasant. Aside from wanting my own immune system to come to grips with this and do this more naturally, I also smell the stench of pharmaceutical profiteering and the maniacal profiteering found in most big businesses.

    November 16, 2011 at 17:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. Kent in Dallas TX

    @Voltairine & others,

    I suggest that you go to the nearest public library & learn more about modern health care.

    I also suggest that you talk to physicians & pharmicists to find out whether they get themselves & their families vaccinated.

    Actually, the big phamaceutical companies don't make any money from vaccines.

    As a matter of fact, they didn't want to keep making vaccines until the Federal government set up a special fund to protect them from lawsuits.

    Frankly, I don't have any idea how much the parmaceutical companies make from their drugs.

    However I am sure that it costs those companies an unbelievable amount of money to find new medicines & test the medicines on groups of volunt eers to make the FDA happy–before they make a single dollar.

    I happen to have several serious medical problems & probably would have spent most of my life in hospital.

    Actually I probably would have become homeless decades ago & died by now.

    Oh, about letting your natural immune system take care of you: I suggest that you research the epidemics that ran wild killing people.

    There was a worldwide influenza epidemic about a hundred years ago which kill about 100 million people.

    Nowdays, AIDS is killing millions of people in the third world because their countries don't have enough doctors & nurses to give everybody antiviral medicines–which the big pharmiceutical companies make.

    Even though I disagree with you, I hopes that you don't lose any relatives or friends to a disease which a vaccine can prevent. From your name I assume that you are female & have children. I hope that you get them all vaccinated before one of them dies or gets irreversable damage.

    November 17, 2011 at 14:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. Kent in Dallas TX

    @Voltairine,

    You should go to the nearest library & learn more about health care.

    You should also ask doctors whether they get themselves & their families vaccinated.

    The drug companies don't make any money from vaccines.

    They didn't want to keep making vaccines until the Federal government set up a fund to prot them from geitting

    Frankly, I don't have any idea how much the parmaceutical companies make from their drugs.

    However I am sure that it costs those companies an unbelievable amount of money to find new medicines & test the medicines on groups of volunt eers to make the FDA happy–before they make a single dollar.

    I happen to have several serious medical problems & probably would have spent most of my life in hospital.

    Actually I probably would have become homeless decades ago & died by now.

    Oh, about letting your natural immune system take care of you: I suggest that you research the epidemics that ran wild killing people.

    There was a worldwide influenza epidemic about a hundred years ago which kill about 100 million people.

    Nowdays, AIDS is killing millions of people in the third world because their countries don't have enough doctors & nurses to give everybody antiviral medicines–which the big pharmiceutical companies make.

    Even though I disagree with you, I hopes that you don't lose any relatives or friends to a disease which a vaccine can prevent. From your name I assume that you are female & have children. I hope that you get them all vaccinated before one of them dies or gets irreversable damage.

    November 17, 2011 at 14:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. Kent in Dallas TX

    @Voltairine,

    You should go to the nearest library & learn more about health care.

    You should also ask doctors whether they get themselves & their families vaccinated.

    The drug companies don't make any money from vaccines.

    They didn't want to keep making vaccines until the Federal government set up a special fund to shield them from lawsuits.

    I don't have any idea how much the drug companies make.

    However I am sure that it costs them an unbelievable amount of money to find new drugs & get those drugs aproved.

    I happen to have several serious medical problems & probably would have spent most of my life in hospitals.

    About letting your immune system protect you: You should read about epidemics & pandemics

    There was a influenza epidemic about a hundred years ago which killed about 100 million people.

    AIDS is killing millions of people in the third world because they don't have enough nurses to hand out antiviral medicines–which the big drug companies make.

    I hope that you don't lose any loved ones, such as children, to a disease which vaccines can prevent.

    November 17, 2011 at 15:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. Kent in Dallas TX

    Excuse for posting my comments three times. I was having problems with the Submit button.

    November 17, 2011 at 15:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. yael

    Offering the influenza vaccine to protesters is a very wise thing to do, from a public health point of view. You take people in close quarters, many of whom are probably already a little sleep-deprived and malnourished, and that is the perfect storm for an epidemic. Those of you who insist on blaming "Big Pharma" for some sort of conspiracy have probably never worked in an ICU during flu season. People can, and do, get extremely ill from influenza.

    November 17, 2011 at 16:15 | Report abuse | Reply

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.