By: Pooja Sharma

The aftermath of both Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma poses some hidden health threats. Flood waters are highly prone to contamination and can be a source of some serious health risks. As both Houston and Florida gear up to tackle the trail of the hurricane, there is yet another issue that they have to prepare for.

According to reports, the amount of bacteria in floodwaters is extremely high and can cause serious health issues – not only by consumption, but by exposure too. The floodwaters also harbor fecal waste, sewage material, fungi, virus, and toxic substances. The waters tested positive for some chemicals and heavy elements, such as: lead, arsenic, industrial solvents etc.

Cholera, E. coli and more…

The sewage, fecal bacteria that’s leaking in can cause an increased risk of cholera, typhoid, and jaundice. All of these diseases are spread through contaminated water, and thus, are more common in underdeveloped and developing countries. Flood waters are also test high for E. coli. With one area testing to be 135 times the amount of E. coli in standing waters than considered safe.

Symptoms of these infections include abdominal pain, vomiting, fever, and diarrhea. Medical assistance is recommended as soon as possible after symptoms arise.

Vibrio is another likely, but not well-known risk…

Unlike the diseases mentioned above, which may just make you sick without posing any significant life threats, Vibrio can also be deadly. With Vibrio, coming into contact with the bacteria through an open wound or a scar is as likely to put you at the risk of the infection as ingesting it. During Hurricane Katrina, Vibrio took the lives of 5 people and 22 people lost their limbs because of this infection. So, it’s important that you look out for those cuts and wounds of yours. This safety measure needs to be taken for all those affected by both Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma. Vibrio generally lives in open sea but due to floods, the bacteria gets carried into urban areas. They then form a safe and favorable environment to breed and grow.

Symptoms of Vibrio generally peak in within 24 hours after you come in contact with it. The symptoms include fever, chills, watery diarrhea, etc. If it is a skin infection, then look out for unusual redness, swelling, hot, and red infectious wounds. Do not try to treat it at home and get medical attention as soon as you can.

Toxic material leakage is on the way…

From Texas to Florida, both Hurricane Harvey to Hurricane Irma have posed risks to the people and environment as well. Superfund sites as defined by EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) are highly polluted areas that require a long time response to clear up hazardous materials and toxic waste. Around a dozen of these were present during Hurricane Harvey and Florida has 22 of these Superfund sites. After Hurricane Harvey flooded the toxic sites, the officials were informed of the risk. Sadly, not much was done and flood waters in Florida did get contaminated with toxic waste. People are showing up with unknown rashes and skin irritation. Your best bet would be not to take any skin conditions or health issues lightly if you are in a flood-prone area. Just get yourself checked if anything fishy seems to happen with your body.

One more risk could be that of Tetanus infection. Tetanus is an infection that can spread by contaminated soil, manure, and debris. So, if you haven’t had a Tetanus shot in over 10 years, it’s a good time to get one right now – just to stay safe.

If you are in Houston, you can actually get the water from your private wells tested for free. This free testing is provided by Texas A&M University’s AgriLife Extension services. They informed the public that all the residents should assume that the water they are using is contaminated and should not use the flood water at any time to cook, bathe, or drink. To get water checked, just pick up a test kit and then return the sample on the mentioned date and time. Here are the AgriLife Extension locations where you can pick up the free kit.

Officials will then check it for the bacteria or any other possible contamination and revert back to you. The testing will also be helpful to understand the impact and extent of contamination the floods have had on the water.

To stay safe from the contaminated water you should either use stored water that was covered and did not come into contact with the flood water. The next step would be to boil the water or use packaged water for drinking and cooking. If you have a cut or a wound, make sure that it doesn’t come into contact with the flood water at any time whatsoever. As mentioned bacteria and virus can cause an infection through the wound. So, either cover it up properly or use safely stored water to have a bath. Also, drain any standing water as it can breed mosquitoes and viruses such as Zika too. Disinfect all the places in your home, which have come in contact with flood waters. Clean your water tank thoroughly using bleach. Throw out clothes or any other things, which have been in the flood waters for a long time.

It’s not clear yet so as to how far the contamination has spread. However, this is not something unexpected happening. The warnings for increased water safety is spread even after heavy rains. As even rains can dissolve sewage water or toxic materials from plants which can get further transported. There would most certainly not be an outbreak due to diseases as the US has a very advanced system of health and safety in place.

It will still be a few weeks till the authorities are able to repair and get the wastewater facilities fully functional. Until then, it’s crucial that you follow the complete guidelines of water usage to stay safe.

 

Sources:

http://www.mystatesman.com/news/local/hurricane-harvey-careful-protect-against-illness-you-clean/fWDANGdY4JOwDQHbclgezJ/

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/texas-florida-toxic-sites-risk-flooding/

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/11/health/houston-flood-contamination.html

http://metro.co.uk/2017/09/13/5-ways-floridas-floodwater-can-kill-or-seriously-harm-you-according-to-health-officials-6925614/