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Florence Flood Waters Could Carry Infectious Diseases

Posted in Water on September 18, 2018

With the death toll nearing 20, Hurricane and later turned Tropical Depression Florence has been devastating for a large part of the east coast of the United States. Virginia has suffered flooding and tornados because of the weakened storm system, but the Carolina’s without a doubt were hit the hardest.

When dealing with flood waters which seem to be everywhere people turn, the question comes up how safe are they? The answers can vary, but in general the waters are not all that safe at all. The debris that gets washed from one area to another can become dangerous because they can cut people or even cause you to lose your footing and especially in rushing waters can cause drowning. There are also infectious disease concerns as pointed out by WSB Radio in a recently published article:

Diarrheal diseases

Drinking or eating anything that has encountered floodwaters can lead to cryptosporidiosis, E. coli infection, or giardiasis. While cryptosporidiosis and giardiasis are brought on by parasites, E. coli is caused by bacteria.

Symptoms from each include diarrhea, gas, nausea, and vomiting. Cryptosporidiosis, however, can even be fatal for those with weakened immune systems, such as AIDS or cancer.

Wound infections

Open wounds and rashes that are exposed to flood water can cause tetanus or Vibrio vulnificus. Tetanus is a bacterial infection, and it can enter the body through breaks in the skin like a cut.

Vibrio vulnificus, another bacterium, can be contracted the same way. Many people become infected by consuming undercooked shellfish or exposing an injury to brackish or salt water.

Other illnesses

People affected by flooded areas can also get trench foot. It occurs when your feet are wet for long periods of time. It can cause pain, swelling and numbness.

This leaves us with questions such as how you should go about working in flood waters. In June, we helped in some post-flood clean up, and I was very careful and used gloves especially when handling things that had been soaked by the waters because of mold forming so quickly. The clean-up was extremely messy and I wore old clothing that if they got stained I could either toss them out or get them straight into the washer when we got home. The CDC gives us some great tips for how to handle flood waters:

Although infectious diseases are a frightening prospect, widespread outbreaks of infectious disease after hurricanes are not common in the United States. Rare and deadly exotic diseases, such as cholera or typhoid, do not suddenly break out after hurricanes and floods in areas where such diseases do not naturally occur. Communicable disease outbreaks of diarrhea and respiratory illness can occur when water and sewage systems are not working and personal hygiene is hard to maintain because of a disaster.

Get the right safety gear

  • Hard hats
  • Goggles
  • N95 masks (or a respirator with a higher protection level)
  • Heavy work gloves
  • Waterproof boots with steel toe and insole (not just steel shank)
  • Earplugs or protective headphones (if you’re working with noisy equipment)
  • At least two fire extinguishers (each with a UL rating of at least 10A)

If sewage is involved, make sure to wear the following during your cleanup:

  • Rubber boots
  • Rubber gloves
  • Goggles

To prevent mold growth:

  • Clean up and dry your home quickly after the storm or flood ends- within 24 to 48 hours if possible.
  • Air out your house by opening doors and windows. Use fans to dry wet areas. Position fans to blow air out doors or windows.
  • Throw away anything that you can’t clean or dry quickly (such as mattresses, carpeting, carpet padding, rugs, upholstered furniture, cosmetics, stuffed animals, baby toys, pillows, foam-rubber items, books, wall coverings, and paper products).
  • Remove and discard drywall and insulation that has been contaminated with sewage or flood waters.
  • Thoroughly clean all wet items and surfaces with hot water and laundry or dish detergent. For example, you’ll want to clean any flooring, concrete, molding, wood and metal furniture, countertops, appliances, sinks, and other plumbing fixtures.
  • Fix any leaks in roofs, walls, or plumbing as soon as you can.

Wash up with soap and water:

  • Wash up with soap and water once you’re done cleaning.
  • If there is a boil-water advisory in effect:
    • Use water that has been boiled for 1 minute (allow the water to cool before washing); or
    • Use water that’s been disinfected for personal hygiene:
      • When using 5-6% unscented liquid household chlorine bleach – add a little less than 1/8 teaspoon (8 drops or about 0.5 milliliters) per 1 gallon of clear water. Stir well, and let it stand for 30 minutes before using. If the water is cloudy, add a little less than ¼ teaspoon (16 drops or about 1 milliliter) per 1 gallon of water.
      • When using 8.25% unscented liquid household chlorine bleach – add a little less than 1/8 teaspoon (6 drops or about 0.5 milliliters) per 1 gallon of clear water. Stir well, and let it stand for 30 minutes before using. If the water is cloudy, add 12 drops (or about 1 milliliter) per 1 gallon of water.
    • If you have any open cuts or sores that were exposed to flood water, wash them with soap and water and apply an antibiotic ointment to prevent an infection.
    • Seek immediate medical attention if you become injured or sick.
    • Wash all clothes worn during the cleanup in hot water and detergent. These clothes should be washed separately from uncontaminated clothes and linens.

We are also warned that if waters are below 75 degrees F that you should wear insulated clothing and insulated rubber boots. You will want to take frequent breaks from the waters and change into dry clothing as soon as you can to prevent cold symptoms or even pneumonia. Just remember it is best to keep warm and dry.

No matter where Florence has affected you know that you do have a support system and reach out for help when needed. You are not alone in this. There are many different agencies helping with recovery efforts.

We at MakeFoodSafe are sending good thoughts and good vibes to our friends in the Carolinas and Virginia.