- Floodwaters due to catastrophic events can pose several health risks as they are likely contaminated by sewage and other chemicals due to the inundation of the sewer system and various consumer and industrial sources.
- Besides the immediate risks of contaminated water, potential health threats come from untreated injuries and skin infections caused by navigating and exposure to flooded zones.
- Public health workers play a crucial role in administering vaccines against potential infections caused by unclean water and ensuring individuals with chronic conditions have access to their necessary medication during the event.
- Crowded shelters following the disaster can facilitate rapid transmission of colds and viral diseases. Preventive measures such as regular vaccines and basic hygiene practices can help prevent this.
- Mental health challenges could potentially arise over time among individuals, particularly those already coping with mental health issues, in the aftermath of flooding.
Catastrophic flooding events, such as that caused by Hurricane Harvey, introduce a plethora of potential health risks, some of which may not be immediately evident.
The most imminent threat lies in the unsanitary floodwaters, as explained by Dr. Frank Esper, an infectious disease specialist. “Floodwaters are likely contaminated by sewage, due to the inundation of the sewer system. This leads to the contamination of standing water present in and around people’s homes,” Esper said. “Individuals are exposed to significantly higher bacteria concentrations when wading through such water.”
The Long-Term Health Consequences Post Flood
Following the immediate dangers of contaminated water, citizens face additional health issues due to the absence of modern conveniences. Potential chemical contamination from consumer and industrial sources present even more threats. “Drinking water, particularly from wells, is also at risk of contamination,” added Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of a reputed public health association.
The Health Danger Even Without Ingesting Contaminated Water
Dr. Maria Torroella Carney, a chief in geriatric and palliative medicine, sheds light on another lesser-known hazard related to contaminated water. “Floodwater poses substantial infection risks, especially from abrasions and lacerations incurred when individuals try to navigate flooded zones,” said Dr. Carney. “Without access to proper treatment, such injuries can become life-threatening.”
Even without visible injuries, prolonged exposure to water can lead to skin infections. “Bacteria can exploit minute fissures and cracks caused by continuous water exposure leading to local skin infections,” noted Esper.
The Importance of Vaccines and Medication
Public health workers have a crucial role in administering vaccines against potential infections caused by unclean water. Lack of essential medication can impose threat upon individuals dealing with chronic conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure or rheumatoid arthritis.
“Due to panic or uncertainty during evacuation, people might forget to bring their medicines leading to severe consequences,” added Dr. Benjamin. Ensuring these individuals have access to their necessary medication will be a significant part of the public health response.
Potential Ailments in Crowded Refuge Centers
Crowded shelters create grounds for rapid transmission of colds and viral diseases. “Regular flu shots can provide some protection against these viruses,” recommends Dr. Carney. Simple measures like hand washing before meals or after using the bathroom can also help prevent the spread of diseases.
Mental Health Challenges Following Disasters
Besides physical health problems, emotional or mental issues can also surface over time, particularly among individuals already coping with mental health problems. In a post-disaster scenario, mental health services may need to mobilize to make aid available to those in need.
Another potential concern in the aftermath of flooding is the increase in mosquito-borne diseases like the Zika virus. “Many areas in Texas have a known risk of Zika infection, and standing water post-flood could provide breeding grounds for mosquitoes,” warned Benjamin.
Despite the numerous threats, it is important to remember that disaster management has evolved over time. “Past catastrophic events like Hurricane Katrina have provided lessons that are applied in managing the current scenario,” concluded Esper.
To learn more about coping with disasters, visit Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).