The Department of Health stresses safety to residents returning home to areas that have been affected by Hurricane Ivan. LDH Offers the following reminders to residents for a safe and injury-free return:
Don’t Wade or Swim in Contaminated Floodwaters
The Louisiana Department of Health advises people to avoid contact with floodwaters.
There is always the possibility that heavy rains will cause sewage treatment systems (both community and residential) to fail. Sewage disposal ponds and cattle and swine lagoons can also overflow.
If people come in contact with floodwater, they should bath and wash their clothes with hot, soapy water. Floodwaters are always potentially dangerous because they could harbor bacterial disease.
People whose homes were flooded during the hurricane should assume everything touched by flood water is contaminated and will have to be disinfected. Most cleanup can be done with household cleaning products. Residents are advised to wash their hands frequently during clean up and always wear rubber gloves.
Public Health Officials Warn of Flooding's Delayed Dangers
Residents working on or living in buildings damaged by water during flooding should be aware of the potential for biological contamination. State health officials advise residents to take further precautions.
If conditions are favorable, microscopic organisms such as bacteria and fungi can begin to multiply after the initial cleanup has been completed. People who live and work in contaminated buildings run the risk of developing or worsening potentially serious illnesses such as asthma and allergic rhinitis.
Porous, soft or spongy materials such as carpet, upholstered furniture, sheet rock and bedding that are soaked by floodwater or rainwater dry very slowly. With sufficient moisture, microorganisms can reproduce in these materials to numbers that can present a health risk after only a few hours.
The only way to effectively prevent this growth is to control the moisture. Once the materials have been contaminated, they must either be thoroughly cleaned or disposed of.
The following guidelines are recommended for cleanup activities:
- Porous, absorbent, or spongy materials that remain wet for more than 48 hours should be cleaned throughout or thrown away.
- Materials that can be cleaned should be washed with a detergent solution, rinsed with clear water, and rinsed again with a biocidal solution such as 1 1/2 cups of household chlorine bleach mixed with one gallon of water. Allow this solution to stay in contact with the material for five minutes and rinse again with clear water. Avoid skin contact with the solution and use only in well-ventilated areas. Some materials, such as textiles, may be damaged by the bleach solution. Remember that the use of biocides (disinfectants) is no substitute for drying and cleaning materials.
- Fungi and bacteria will re-contaminate materials if they remain wet even after very thorough cleaning and disinfecting.
- Make sure the materials are dry before cleaning. If they cannot be dried out, throw them away. Dispose of them properly.
- If carpet or other materials become moldy or musty smelling, they are probably contaminated. Carpet cleaning professionals using hot water extraction methods may be able to remove the contaminants. If not, the carpet and padding should be replaced.
- Contaminated upholstered furniture, bedding and books are much more difficult to clean than carpet and should usually be thrown away because cleaning may be more expensive than replacement.
- Handling and cleaning contaminated materials can result in massive exposures to mold, bacteria, viruses and other contaminants. Individuals with respiratory allergies, or other respiratory illnesses, should not handle or disturb materials that have visible mold growth.
Professional cleaning companies using appropriate personal protective equipment should be used if contamination is extensive.
Septic Tanks Could Be Affected By Storm Waters
Health officials say that flooding will keep septic systems and other residential sewage disposal systems from operating correctly until the floodwaters recede. Homeowners should take the following steps if their septic tank system has failed:
- Avoid using the home’s plumbing system if the septic tank or the drain field is still underwater.
- Do not use the plumbing system if sewage is backing up into the house.
- Try to reduce the amount of debris entering the septic tank and plumbing systems.
- Avoid contact with the sewage from septic tanks that are not working – raw sewage is a public health problem and can cause disease.
- Avoid contact with electrical wiring and electrical components of mechanical sewage treatment systems.
Officials warn that some systems may be so damaged that repairs will be required before they will work again. Significant health problems associated with a residential sewage disposal system that does not work are the release of untreated sewage onto the top of the ground, into streams and bayous, or into stagnant pools left behind by flooding.
For more information about how to deal with failed residential sewage systems contact your parish health unit.
Disaster Victims Cautioned about Food Handling
Citizens should be careful not to use foods damaged or spoiled due to loss of electricity or flooding, according to State Health Officer, Dr. Jimmy Guidry. Citizens are urged to use the following guidelines:
- Refrigerated foods that have reached a temperature of 41 degrees or more, or which have been kept for 8 to 12 hours without refrigeration should be used immediately or discarded.
- Do not open freezers until you plan to use or discard the contents; most freezers will keep food safe for 36 to 48 hours if left closed.
- After a freezer is opened, and if the temperature of the food is above 41 degrees, use immediately or discard it.
- Do not refreeze thawed foods.
- Wash and sanitize (using 1 ½ cups of household bleach to one gallon of water) cans of food (and can openers as well) that have been exposed to flood waters prior to opening them.
- If fresh fruits and vegetables or food in plastic, cardboard or paper containers have been under flood waters, do not eat them.
- If you must discard food, place the food in a sealed plastic bag or container for disposal in your local landfill.
If you have questions about food safety, call your sanitarian at your parish health unit or contact your regional public health administrator.
No Special Immunizations Needed in Storm’s Wake
Officials with the Louisiana Department of Health say there is no need for any special immunizations in the wake of a hurricane or other severe storm.
“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.
Guidry explained that residents who cut or puncture themselves should get a tetanus shot unless they have had 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 or if the last shot was over five years ago.
Health and Safety Important in 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 flood water 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 flood waters.
- 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.
For more information on cleaning up after a flood, contact your local parish health unit.
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 department 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 also 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.