Hurricane Harvey Health Warning – Texas and Louisiana
Hurricane Harvey may have finally passed through Texas and Louisiana but there are still considerable health and environmental risks that lurk in the waters dumped by the storm, a stew of toxic chemicals, sewage, debris and waste that still floods many areas. Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Tom Price declared a public health emergency in Texas on Sunday.
Please be aware that health officials are warning people that the floodwaters contain millions of contaminants. Runoff from sprawling petroleum and chemical complexes contains any number of hazardous compounds including arsenic, lead and other carcinogens. Sewers are overflowing and these contain untold numbers of bacteria and viruses that can cause serious illnesses, especially in those who may have weakened immune systems.
Because the sewer systems have been damaged and infiltrated by floodwaters, the risk of disease from animal and human feces is a major concern. Likewise, if your home has had water in it, it is possible that pesticides and other stored hazardous chemicals in your home could have contaminated your home. People are being warned to stay out of the water if at all possible. If you are in any floodwater, wash it off as soon as possible to minimize health risks even if the water is weeks old. Skin infections can be a serious problem especially if a person has an open wound or sores. Using items that have been submerged can also cause stomach problems. To cut down on infection, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reminds parents not to let children play with toys that have been in the water unless then have since been thoroughly washed.
Waterborne and communicable respiratory and gastrointestinal disease can spread amid the breakdown in water sanitation, contamination from industrial or hazardous waste sites, or the higher density of people crowding into shelters.
Researchers have found that wounds, poisonings and infections of the gut and skin increase soon after storms. Gastrointestinal infections increase more frequently after floods due to contaminated water. Diabetes-related complications increase after both.
People with chronic conditions like cardiovascular disease or respiratory illness are particularly prone to health problems immediately after a storm, and their care can be complicated by lack of necessary medications.
Here are some steps you can take to reduce your risk of serious health problems:
- Drink bottled water until your water supply has been certified as safe. Well water could be contaminated if your area was flooded. Boil your water if no bottled water is available.
- If you are exposed to floodwater, wash and clean your skin immediately and then treat all open wounds with an antibiotic cream.
- Notify your doctor immediately if you begin having severe diarrhea and/or vomiting.
- Ask for help from your local American Red Cross or local public health department if you are in need of important medications to treat your heart disease, lung disease or diabetes.
- Be careful when walking in flooded areas because they can hide sharp objects made of metal or glass.
- The CDC advises people to wear rubber boots and gloves when they clean their homes, to avoid direct contact with any item that has come into contact with floodwater and consider wearing a respirator.
- People who are near standing water should take extra care to use bug spray with DEET to reduce the risk of infection from mosquitos.
Credit to Author:Kevin Soden, MDAdvisory Board member, Sharecare