Posttraumatic stress symptoms, intrusive thoughts, loss, and immune function after Hurricane Andrew

Gail Ironson, Christina Wynings, Neil Schneiderman, Andrew Baum, Mario Rodriguez, Debra Greenwood, Charles Benight, Michael Antoni, Arthur Laperriere, Hui Sheng Huang, Nancy Klimas, Mary Ann Fletcher

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

293 Scopus citations


Objective: To examine the impact of and relationship between exposure to Hurricane Andrew, a severe stressor, posttraumatic stress symptoms and immune measures. Methods: Blood draws and questionnaires were taken from community volunteer subjects living in the damaged neighborhoods between 1 and 4 months after the Hurricane. Results: The sample exhibited high levels of posttraumatic stress symptoms by questionnaire [33% overall; 76% with at least one symptom cluster), and 44% scored in the high impact range on the Impact of Events (IES) scale. A substantial proportion of variance in posttraumatic stress symptoms could be accounted for by four hurricane experience variables (damage, loss, life threat, and injury), with perceived loss being the highest correlate. Of the five immune measures studied Natural Killer Cell Cytotoxicity (NKCC) was the only measure that was meaningfully related (negatively) to both damage and psychological variables (loss, intrusive thoughts, and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). White blood cell counts (WBCs) were significantly positively related with the degree of loss and PTSD experienced. Both NKCC (lower) and WBC were significantly related to retrospective self-reported increase of somatic symptoms after the hurricane. Overall, the community sample was significantly lower in NKCC, CD4 and CD8 number, and higher in NK cell number compared to laboratory controls. Finally, evidence was found for new onset of sleep problems as a mediator of the posttraumatic symptom - NKCC relationship. Conclusions: Several immune measures differed from controls after Hurricane Andrew. Negative (intrusive) thoughts and PTSD were related to lower NKCC. Loss was a key correlate of both posttraumatic symptoms and immune (NKCC, WBC) measures.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)128-141
Number of pages14
JournalPsychosomatic medicine
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1997


  • anxiety
  • disaster
  • hurricane
  • immunity
  • posttraumatic stress disorder
  • stress

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Psychology(all)


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