Indiana weather has not been kind to Hoosiers early in 2014, and state health officials urge citizens to be aware of the health risks in the event of a flood and to take steps to protect themselves and their families, according to Ken Severson, Indiana State Department of Health media relations manager.
“If we do experience flooding, the water will be frigid,” said Dr. Joan Duwve, ISDH chief medical officer. “Wading or being immersed in floodwater can cause dangerously low body temperatures or hypothermia. Floodwater also contains harmful toxins and bacteria. Keep yourself and your family high and dry if flooding should occur.”
Other potential hazards related to flooding include slippery conditions, poor visibility, floating debris and downed, live wires which can cause electrical shock. Additionally, small cuts or scratches on the skin can make people more susceptible to diseases like tetanus and other pathogens.
Untreated sanitary waste and toxins can end up in waterways and on streets when heavy rain overwhelms sewer systems and treatment plants. Wells and cisterns may also be affected, and people who drink, bathe, wash or prepare food with water from a contaminated well during or immediately after a flooding are at risk of contracting a serious illness. Wells that are located in a flooded area should be assumed to be contaminated. Health officials recommend people discontinue use of the well water until it can be inspected by a professional well contractor. Even when the water recedes, E. coli and other pathogens remain present in pools of standing water.
Some other safety tips are
• Don’t drive through flooded roads, as cars can be swept away or lose power;
• Never touch a downed power line or anything in contact with one;
• Listen to announcements in local media (radio, television or newspaper) to find out if it’s safe to use tap water and follow instructions regarding water;
• If you are not sure if water is safe to use, boil water before using it for anything, including brushing teeth, cooking, drinking or bathing;
• Throw away any food that may have been touched by floodwater;
• Use battery-powered lanterns and flashlights instead of candles to prevent fires; and
• Stoves, generators, lanterns and gas ranges release dangerous carbon monoxide gas and should always be used outdoors, far from windows, doors and vents.
Individuals who experience a puncture wound from flood debris or a wound contaminated with feces, soil or saliva should visit their health care provider or local health department to determine whether they need a tetanus booster.
Tetanus is an acute, often fatal disease. Symptoms include generalized rigidity and painful spasms of skeletal muscles. The muscle stiffness usually involves the jaw (lockjaw) and neck and then becomes more generalized. Any type of wound, major or minor, could be an entry source for tetanus bacteria.
Tetanus vaccines are available from primary health care providers, local hospitals or local health departments. Persons should see a health care provider right away if a wound contaminated with floodwater or debris shows signs of infection, such as redness, swelling, pain and warmth.
For more flood safety and sanitization recommendations, visit www.in.gov/isdh/20401.htm.