Baton Rouge – The Department of Health offers the following safety tips to prevent injury and the spread of disease following Hurricane Katrina.
1. Tetanus Shots May be Needed Following a Hurricane
LDH officials say there is no need for any special immunizations in the wake of a hurricane or other severe storm; however, residents who cut or puncture themselves while cleaning up after the storm should get a tetanus shot if they have not received one in the past five years.
Adults should routinely have a tetanus shot every 10 years, but a booster shot is necessary if they have a dirty wound and their last shot was more than five years ago.
Residents should not be concerned about getting special immunizations for other diseases following a hurricane.
“National experience from multiple flood disasters demonstrates that residents exposed to flood waters are not at a greater risk for hepatitis A or typhoid fever,” said State Health Officer Dr. Jimmy Guidry.
2. Take Precautions During Hurricane Cleanup
As people start cleaning up the mess left by a hurricane, they need to take extra precautions to protect their own health and safety. People whose homes were flooded should assume everything touched by floodwater is contaminated and will have to be disinfected. Most clean up can be done with household cleaning products. Remember to wash your hands frequently during clean up and always wear rubber gloves.
If your home flooded, you should:
· Clean all walls, hard-surface floors and other household surfaces with soap and water and disinfect them with a solution of 1 ½ cups of chlorine bleach to one gallons of water. Pay particular attention to areas that come in contact with food, or where small children play.
· After cleaning a room or item, go over it again with disinfectant to kill germs and odors left by floodwaters.
· Use a two-bucket method when cleaning. Put cleaning solution in one bucket and rinse water in the other. Replace rinse water frequently.
· Wash all linens and clothing in hot water, or dry clean them.
· Contaminated mattresses and upholstered furniture should be discarded in a proper manner because cleaning is generally more expensive than replacement.
· All carpets should be steam cleaned or discarded, along with the padding.
· Wear rubber boots and waterproof gloves during cleanup if sewage backed up into your home.
· Remove and discard contaminated household goods such as wall coverings, rugs, cloth and drywall that can't be disinfected.
· Remove mildew with household mildew cleaner; a mixture of five tablespoons washing soda, or trisodium phosphate, to a gallon of water or 1 ½ cup of laundry chlorine bleach to a gallon of water.
· Empty standing water out of birdbaths, tires, flower pots and other containers.
· If the pilot light on your natural gas furnace, hot-water heater or stove goes out, have it re-lit by a professional (gas company employee or licensed plumber).
· Throw out any food item that has come in contact with the floodwaters, including jarred items that were covered by the water.
· Do not drink water until it has been declared safe for drinking or has been boiled according to recommendations.
3. Don’t Get Hurt After the Storm
The dangers associated with hurricanes aren't necessarily over once the storm has passed. Accidents and injuries often occur while people try to deal with power outages or begin cleanup efforts.
A study of 2,090 hurricane-related emergency room visits during and after Hurricane Hugo in 1989, conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta and the North Carolina Department of Environment, Health and Natural Resources, found that 88 percent of the patients were treated for injuries.
Insect stings and wounds accounted for nearly half of the total cases. Nearly one-third of the wounds were caused by chain saws. Motor vehicle accidents and falls were also major causes of storm-related injuries. Many such injuries can be prevented by being aware of hazards and by avoiding potentially dangerous situations. Some extra caution can prevent mishaps:
· Walk and drive cautiously. Avoid debris and flooded areas, which can camouflage sharp objects, electrical wires, holes and other hazards. Watch out for loose or dangling power lines; stay away from them and report them immediately to the proper authorities.
· Be cautious around standing water and flooded areas. The water may be deeper than it appears.
· Do not leave children unattended. Do not allow them to play in or explore damaged or flooded areas. Keep chemicals used for cleaning and disinfecting, fuel for generators and pest-control substances out of reach of children.
· Wear sturdy shoes or boots and protective clothing such as heavy pants, long sleeves and gloves when cleaning up debris. Stinging insects such as bees and wasps can become very aggressive after a storm. Survey the area before beginning cleanup and use a commercially available pesticide if needed.
· Be aware that animals are more likely to bite and be aggressive after a storm. Cats and dogs are stressed by the event, while many wild animals may have been forced out of their normal surroundings by the hurricane. Be on the lookout for snakes and rats as you clean up and avoid them.
· Exercise particular caution in using power tools or tackling large debris, which can shift suddenly. Chain saws are particularly dangerous; get proper safety training before using one.
· Falls are common; use safety equipment and get trained help with large or difficult jobs. Don't take chances and don’t drink alcoholic beverages before or during the use of power tools. Alcohol dulls your ability to see dangerous situations.
· If the electrical power to your home is off and you cook on a charcoal or gas grill, carbon monoxide is a threat. An odorless, colorless gas produced by combustion, carbon monoxide can be deadly. Use a grill only in an open, well-ventilated area, never inside the house, and keep it away from combustible materials.
· The exhaust fumes from gasoline-powered generators are another source of carbon monoxide poisoning. Never use a generator in an enclosed area such as a basement or garage. Make sure the area is well-ventilated, dry and preferably covered.
· Generators also pose electrical hazards. Do not connect the generator to your home’s electrical system. Instead, connect appliances directly to the generator with properly sized, polarized extension cords. Do not overload the generator or the cords, and place the cords where no one will trip over them. Be sure the generator is properly grounded (follow the manufacturer's directions). Before refueling, let the engine cool for at least two minutes to prevent fires. Store extra fuel in a safe, dry area.
- If you are returning to a storm-damaged house, be particularly careful. Before entering the building, check for structural damage to be sure there is no danger of collapse. Turn off any outside gas lines at the meter or tank and let the house air for a few minutes.
- Even if the electricity is off in the neighborhood, make sure the electrical power is turned off at the main breaker or fuse box. Electricity and water are a dangerous combination – if you have to step in water to get to the breaker box, call a professional electrician first for advice.
- Don’t turn on any lights, appliances, or gas systems until they've been tested. If you must enter the house at night, use a battery-operated flashlight, not an open flame, as a light source, and do not smoke.
- If the house has been flooded, electrical wires and appliances will have to be cleaned and thoroughly dried before they can be safely used again. Contact your electrical power company or a professional electrician for advice.
4. Be Cautious of Spreading Illnesses to Others
It is also important to remember that, following a hurricane, people often shelter in close quarters and share food more than usual. This can put them at a higher risk for spreading illnesses person-to-person.
For example, following hurricane landfalls in Florida, several residents contracted Norwalk virus. This gastrointestinal disease was spread by several people sharing ice from a cooler, inadvertently spreading the illness to each other.
To avoid spreading disease, follow the above food safety tips and practice good hygiene when sharing with others. It is important to wash your hands in hot, soapy water and take extra care when around people who have been recently affected with severe diarrhea or vomiting, as this could be a sign of a contagious stomach illness.
If you have questions about food safety, call your sanitarian at your parish health unit or contact your regional public health administrator.
For more information on post-hurricane services that LDH/OPH provides, contact the Emergency Operations Center Public Information Desk at 225-763-5754, or visit www.dhhemergencynews.com.