The Harvey Hack: Upper Respiratory Infections on the Rise a Month After Storm Strikes Houston

A month after Harvey swamped Greater Houston, leaving a trail of moldy debris in its wake, residents across the region are continuing to flood into clinics, urgent cares and doctors’ offices complaining about stuffy noses and coughs that just won’t go away.

Family medicine doctors at Memorial Hermann Medical Group clinics across the metro area say they are seeing higher-than-normal rates of respiratory infections, including acute bronchitis and sinus infections that seem to be lingering longer than usual.

“While allergy and asthma sufferers do tend to struggle with respiratory illnesses around this time of year – mostly due to high counts of ragweed – there’s no question that we are seeing more of these coughs and sniffles than is typical,” said Dr. Gary Mueck, family medicine doctor at Memorial Hermann Medical Group Imperial Oaks in north Houston. “I’m seeing a lot more sinusitis, bronchitis and exacerbation of asthma, along with headaches, with many of my patients saying they helped clean houses after flooding.”

While it’s tough to say with certainty what’s driving the respiratory distress, there are likely a few culprits to blame: Weed pollen, particularly ragweed, is especially bad right now, fueling more itching and sneezing than normal. That high pollen count is coupled with a large amount of mold spores, which could be living in still-soggy houses across the area and the piles of sodden dry wall, insulation and mattresses piled along curbs.

In addition, several patients struggling with chest colds and hacking coughs have said that they helped muck out and gut flooded homes in the immediate aftermath of Harvey.

“Some of these appear to be related to people who have been ripping out drywall and insulation without wearing proper masks,” said Dr. Robert Prangle, a family medicine doctor at Memorial Hermann Medical Group Southeast Beamer.

Memorial Hermann Convenient Care Center in Katy – which has seen a rash of acute bronchitis cases since Harvey inundated the area – urges patients to take extra caution to avoid mold exposure, especially if they are already experiencing symptoms of an upper respiratory infection.

“The best idea is to avoid anything that looks or smells like mold, and if you do need to clean it, make sure to wear an appropriate mask designed to protect specifically against mold,” said Dr. Amber Razfey Kazi, family medicine doctor at Memorial Hermann Convenient Care Center in Katy. “And, as always, remember to wash your hands.”

Have a cough that just won’t quit? Acute bronchitis, an inflammation of the bronchial tubes, typically lasts a few days, but the cough can linger for weeks after the infection is gone. Since most cases of acute bronchitis are viral, the majority of patients get better with rest, lots of fluids and a fever reducer. But some patients who are experiencing wheezing may need a steroid injection or inhaled medicine to open up their airways.

If you begin to feel sick and need medical attention, all Memorial Hermann Urgent Care locations welcome walk-in patients and are open from 9 a.m. – 9 p.m. Online check-in is available to get in line before you arrive.

If you’re feeling sick and not sure what to do, call the free Nurse Health Line: 713.338.7979 or toll-free 855.577.7979.  Registered Nurses will help you decide where to go for care.

For life-threatening emergencies, call 911.


  1. Great information. I have been sick since the storm. Feel better with confirmation on why.

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Tashika Varma