The historic flooding in Texas and Louisiana as a result of Hurricane Harvey brings health and safety concerns. For any business or homeowner there are some basic guidelines to keep in mind as the waters recede and activity resumes in flooded areas.
- To start the day, do everything you can to avoid mosquitoes. Rain and flooding may lead to an increase in mosquitoes which carry diseases such as West Nile virus and dengue fever. Most mosquitoes do not carry diseases, but some do. Protect yourself by applying insect repellent that contains DEET or Picaridin. Make sure to follow the application instructions on the label regarding children. Wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants and socks.
- Flood waters may contain sewage; assume it does and protect yourself accordingly. Wear rubber gloves, rubber boots and goggles during cleanup of affected areas. Remove and discard all items which cannot be washed and disinfected.
- Be extremely careful around standing and moving water. Six inches of moving water can cause you to lose your footing, and two feet of moving water will carry you away. Stay out of moving water if you are not wearing a personal flotation device. If possible, stay out of moving water altogether.
- Standing water can present similar hazards as it is not clear and you may not know where the bottom is, even in a seemingly small puddle. There can be unknown and hidden hazards such as building debris, limbs and animals. Avoid it if possible; and if you must work around standing water, use a personal flotation device and always use extreme caution.
- Flood waters and standing waters pose various risks, including infectious diseases, chemical hazards and injuries. The water may contain floating colonies of thousands of fire ants. They have been displaced from their subterranean homes and have clung together in floating balls until they are able to reach a dry location to rebuild their colony. The fire ant will bite when agitated and inject venom that burns and then develops into fluid-filled pustules.
- Keep children and pets out of contaminated areas until a cleanup has been completed. Do not allow children to play in flood water areas.
- Your septic system may be compromised; have it professionally inspected and serviced if you suspect any damage. A septic system works by the bacteria in the tank breaking down the solids. Before you start doing laundry and introducing multiple loads of detergent which kill the bacteria into the system, make sure the septic system is functioning properly.
- Wash your hands with soap and warm water. Wash your children's hands frequently and before any meal. Use an alcohol-based, waterless hand cleaner if water is not available. Eating or drinking anything contaminated by flood water (or eating with unclean hands) can cause diarrheal disease.
- Open wounds or rashes exposed to flood waters can become infected. Avoid any exposure if possible. If not, then cover the rash or open wound with a waterproof bandage. Keep open wounds as clean as possible by washing well with soap and clean water. If the wound develops redness, swelling or drainage, seek immediate medical attention. Seek medical attention should you become injured or ill.
- Avoid contact with wild or stray animals. Many animals may have been displaced and will be looking for food and/or higher ground. Extreme hunger may cause some animals to become aggressive; be vigilant and avoid all contact if possible. Snakes may be in the flood water or hiding under debris or other objects. Always be on your guard; and if you see a snake, back away from it and do not touch it. If you or someone you know is bitten, try to remember the color of, or coloring on, the snake. If you can safely do so, get a photo of it. Keep the person calm and still and seek medical attention as soon as possible. Please note that alligators have been seen in flood-prone areas also.
- Secure all food sources, as they may attract rodents. Get rid of dead animals as soon as possible in accordance with the guidelines of your local animal control authority.
- Use caution and common sense at all times. Treat all electrical lines, wires and equipment as though they are energized until proven otherwise. If you smell gas, evacuate your area immediately and notify the proper authorities.
- Monitor local road conditions and obey all road closure signs. Never drive through flowing water. A vehicle will not protect you and may cause you to become trapped and away from help.
- Be aware of respiratory hazards. Gasoline, propane and diesel-powered equipment should only be operated in well-ventilated outdoor areas. Wear the proper personal protective equipment when working around dust-generating activities. If you suspect an area or building contains asbestos, make sure an assessment has been done by a qualified professional before the suspect area is disturbed. Refrain from entering areas with extensive mold buildup unless, of course, you have on the proper personal protective equipment.
- Be sure to account for any physical work in the heat and humidity, especially staying hydrated.
- Always be aware of your surroundings. Tree limbs may come down. There is the possibility of lots of broken glass and jagged edges to be careful around in affected areas. Be alert. If at all possible, do not put your hands into any place you cannot see.
Remember to identify all potential hazards in your work space. Always have the proper personal protective equipment before you begin the job. If a task cannot be done safely, it should not be done. Stay safe.
Information sources include the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO) and the Washington Department of Labor and Industries.