Flood Victims Incur Short- and Long-term Health Risks

The flood is over, but health problems may continue for months. Contaminated flood waters are a toxic mix of waste, toxic chemicals, sewage, and trash. Trying to save your life by wading through contaminated flood water is not always the best idea. Bacterial illnesses can cause organ failure, disease, and death. Other threats include infected mosquitoes, airborne contaminants, and toxic gases. The only way to prevent illness is to understand what to avoid and to seek immediate medical attention after contact with flood waters, fumes, and toxins.

Avoid Bacteria

After reviewing 113 studies, researchers found that storms and floods generally increase infections, such as soft tissue, skin, and gastrointestinal. Wounds, poisonings, and complications related to diabetes also increase.

The best way to avoid illness from bacteria is to stay as far away from toxic waters as possible, during and after a flood. Staph and Strep pathogens can cause skin disease. A bacteria called Legionella causes Legionnaires disease in some flood victims which may cause symptoms resembling pneumonia. Contact your local municipality to find out the resources that are available for area residents experiencing an extreme weather emergency. Preparation will give you a clear plan of action to help avoid illness. Government agencies may identify shelters or high ground where residents may stay during a flood. Upon receiving a flood warning, you may also consider an early evacuation for your family.

Prevent Exposure

It’s important to remember that homes aren’t the only structures damaged in a flood. Rushing waters flow into chemical plants, gas companies, refineries, and other corporate entities that store dangerous gases. The risk of toxic gas entering the atmosphere increases when floods enter industrial compounds. Hazardous, cancer-causing chemicals, such as benzene, methane, dioxins may spill into the environment by water and air when pipes burst or valves break. The dangerous mix of chemicals that results from flooding threatens the health of area residents who have direct chemical exposure or eat toxic seafood.

Contact your local agency that protects the environment for information on preventing chemical exposure after an extreme weather event, like a flood. Make sure all structures are well ventilated. Immediately clean and disinfect your home or office. Wear protective clothing and gloves when cleaning hazardous areas. Bleach is a commonly used disinfectant. Sanitizing buildings after a flood protects residents from airborne pathogens.