The first health concern for floods in cold weather is hypothermia and frostbite. Floating debris or hidden sharp edges can cause cuts and bruises. Flood water can also contain human and animal waste or other toxins causing bacterial infection that usually leads to vomiting and diarrhea. Fallen electrical wires can cause electrocution or burns. A condition called trench foot can also occur from standing in water. Another risk is carbon monoxide poisoning from improper use of generators or grills. The CDC outlines ways to protect yourself from these hazards in a flood situation.
Another problem with flood damage is mold, which grows in moisture. Health concerns with mold include “coughing, wheezing, nasal and throat conditions. People with asthma or allergies who are sensitive to mold may notice their asthma or allergy symptoms worsen. Individuals with severely weakened immune system who are exposed to moldy environments are at risk of developing serious fungal respiratory infections” (MDH).
Health concerns associated with floods include contamination of drinking water. After flooding, the water supply may be polluted with human and animal waste. This contamination can lead to health issues such as diarrhea, parasites, and hepatitis A.
Health effects directly from the flood itself are actual death by drowning and injuries from debris. Also, heart attacks from the immediate physical and emotional stress are common. Hypothermia may also be a problem, particularly in children, if trapped in floodwaters for lengthy periods. There may also be an increased risk of respiratory tract infections due to exposure (loss of shelter, exposure to flood waters and rain).
Indirect health effects following the flood can be from contamination of water supplies with bacteria and/or chemicals. Cholera, typhoid fever, leptospirosis and hepatitis A are common concerns. Increase in mosquitoes and other vectors in standing stagnant waters increase risks of diseases such as malaria, yellow fever, dengue and dengue haemorrhagic fever, and West Nile virus.
Post traumatic stress can cause health problems such as depression, anxiety disorders and even suicide for month or years following devastating events.
Whenever possible people should avoid contact with flood waters, since they are unclean and can pose health risks. Flood waters can be a risk for tetanus for those with open wounds who come into direct contact with them. Contact your regular health care provider or your local health department if you believe you may need a tetanus shot.
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