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Hurricane Recovery Public Health Safety Tips

As people affected by Hurricane Harvey and Irma begin the long process of cleaning up after the storm, here is some advice to remain safe and healthy:

Mental Health
Floods can have an immediate and long-term impact on people’s mental health. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is possible, as are strained interpersonal relationships, increased stress, depression, and loss of resiliency. If you or someone you know is experiencing difficulty, please contact the Optum Help Line at 866-342-6892. This number is answered 24 hours a day/7 days a week for as long as necessary.  It is available to anyone, with or without UHC insurance or services from Optum.

Contact with Contaminated Water
If food has come in contact with contaminated water, it should be thrown out. Similarly, children should not be allowed to play with toys that may have been submerged. Toys can be cleaned with a bleach solution at a ratio of four tablespoons to one gallon of water. Toys can also be sanitized by submerging in boiling water.

Anything porous, like stuffed animals, should be thrown out. Health experts say, “When in doubt, throw it out!”

People should wear closed-toe shoes to reduce the risk of both illness and injury when standing in water.

Stomach Illness
Bacteria, viruses, and parasites can grow in floodwaters and cause stomach illness. It is not uncommon to see illness caused by E. coli, Shigella and norovirus to increase after a flood. Frequent handwashing with soap and hot water is the best defense against spreading germs. If soap and water are not available, an alcohol-based hand sanitizer is the next best option.

If someone does get sick with vomiting and diarrhea, it is ideal to keep that person separated from others and clean up any vomit or diarrhea as soon as possible.

Other illnesses spread by contaminated water like cholera and Hepatitis A are less of a concern after a flood.

Respiratory Illness
When cleaning up after a flood, experts recommend wearing rubber boots, gloves, as well as a mask. Mold spores will grow after a flood and become “aerosolized.” Mold can trigger an asthma attack and cause other respiratory symptoms in the elderly, people with a compromised immune systems, or other respiratory diseases like Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).

Healthy people may experience coughing and wheezing when exposed to mold.

Cuts and Skin Rashes
Cuts can become infected if exposed to contaminated water. People should seek medical treatment for cuts that appear to be infected.

Skin rashes are also not uncommon following a flood, and these can be related to chemicals or other toxins in the water. Medical treatment may be necessary.  

Mosquito Borne Illnesses
Raging flood waters wash away mosquitoes and their larvae, but as the waters recede, there will be an abundance of breeding sites in anything from flower pots and bottle caps to old tires.

Wearing long sleeves and pants or using a mosquito repellant is recommended. You can find the right repellant for you and your family here:
https://www.cdc.gov/zika/prevention/prevent-mosquito-bites.htmlOpens a new window

People should ensure they are current on their tetanus vaccination, which is recommended once every 10 years. If you are not sure, you should get a tetanus booster. In general, you should be current on vaccinations recommended for adults and kids.  Easy-to-read schedules for children, teens, and adults can be found here:

https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/schedules/easy-to-read/index.htmlOpens a new window

Additional information is available from the Florida Department of Health:
www.floridahealth.govOpens a new window

Additional information is available from the Texas Department of State Health Services: http://www.dshs.texas.gov/news/updates.shtmOpens a new window