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Flood Water Can Pose Health Risks

By Deanna Krautner

July 26, 2015

FLOOD WATERS CAN POSE HEALTH RISKS 

New Port Richey – Health Officials urge residents to take precautions with flood waters. Although skin contact with flood waters may not, by itself, pose a serious health risk, health hazards are a concern when waters become contaminated. Flood waters may contain fecal material, associated bacteria, viruses, and other pollutants.

Contaminated Water Supply

  • Children playing in contaminated standing water can become sick or be bitten by snakes or floating insects.
  • People coming into contact with floodwaters should thoroughly rinse any exposed body parts with soap and sanitized or disinfected water.

Drinking contaminated water may cause illness. You cannot assume that the water in the flood-affected area is safe to drink.

  • If your public water system is affected, a boil water notice will likely be issued for your area.
  • Individuals with private wells should take precautions. If your well is in a flooded area, your water may contain disease-causing organisms and may not be safe to drink.

DOH recommends one of the following:

  • Use bottled water, especially for mixing baby formula.
  • Boil water for at least one minute before using it for drinking, washing, cooking, etc.;
  • Disinfect water by adding 8 drops (about 1/8 tsp – this would form a puddle about the size of a dime) of unscented household bleach per gallon of water, and then let it stand for 30 minutes. If the water is cloudy after 30 minutes, repeat the procedure.
  • Use a container that has a cap or cover for disinfecting and storing water to be used for drinking. This will prevent contamination.

 

The Florida Department of Health recommends the following precautions to prevent possible illness from flood waters:

  • Basic hygiene is critical. Wash hands contaminated with flood waters with soap and water that has been boiled or disinfected before preparing or eating food, after toilet use, after participating in flood cleanup activities, and after handling articles contaminated with flood water or sewage.
  • Do not eat or drink anything that has been contaminated with flood waters.
  • Do not wade through standing water. If you do, bathe and put on clean clothes as soon as possible.
  • Do not allow children to play in flood waters.
  • Avoid contact with flood waters if you have open cuts or sores.  If you have any open cuts or sores and cannot avoid contact with flood waters, keep them as clean as possible by washing well with soap to control infection. If a wound develops redness, swelling, or drainage, seek immediate medical attention. Residents who sustain lacerations and/or puncture wounds and have not had a tetanus vaccination within the past 10 years require a tetanus booster.
  • If there is a backflow of sewage into your house, wear rubber boots and waterproof gloves during cleanup. Remove and discard absorbent household materials, such as wall coverings, cloth, rugs, and sheetrock. Clean walls and hard-surfaced floors with soap and water and disinfect with a solution of 1/4 cup of bleach to one gallon of water. Thoroughly disinfect food contact surfaces (counter tops, refrigerators, tables) and areas where small children play. Wash all linens and clothing in hot water. Air dry larger items in the sun and spray them with a disinfectant.

 

If you are on a septic system, and your plumbing is functioning slowly or sluggishly, you should:   

  • Conserve water as much as possible; the less water used the less sewage the septic tank must process. Minimize use of your washing machine. Consider utilizing a laundromat. Rental of a portable toilet for a temporary period may be another option.
  • Do not have the septic tank pumped out. Exceptionally high water tables might crush a septic tank that was pumped dry. If the problem is high ground water because of the rains and flooding, pumping the tank will not solve the problem.
  • If you cannot use your plumbing without creating a sanitary nuisance, such as discharging sewage on the ground, consider moving temporarily to a new location until conditions improve.
  • Do not have the septic tank and drainfield repaired until the ground has had an opportunity to dry. Often systems are completely functional when unsaturated conditions return. Any repair must be permitted and inspected by your county health department.

 

After the flooding subsides:

  • Disinfect your well using the procedures available from your local health department,

            or provided on the Department of Health Web site at

            http://www.floridahealth.gov/environmental-health/private-well-testing/_documents/well-water-facts-disinfection.pdf and

  • Have your water tested by your local health department or by a laboratory certified

            by the State to perform a drinking water analysis.

  • Continue to use bottled/boiled/disinfected water until lab tests confirm it is safe.

For more information, please contact your local county health department or visit http://pasco.floridahealth.gov/ or www.FloridaDisaster.org.