Doctor Corey Hebert, MD, recently published an article advising Harvey flood victims and Texans working in clean up on how to avoid getting sick from contaminated flood waters and the other hazards that go along with natural disasters. Doctor Hebert treated hundreds of disaster victims following Hurricane Katrina.
This is his advice broken down into bullet points:
- Stay out of the water as much as possible. Flood waters across East Texas are contaminated with raw sewage, gasoline, chemicals, and dead animals. Avoid contact with skin, and wash thoroughly if contact occurs.
- Wash your hands regularly with antibacterial soap and warm water. Hand sanitizer is an option if you don’t have water or soap, but washing is better. This will prevent the spread of both bacterial and viral illness.
- If you have a wound – even if it’s as small as a paper cut – do your best to avoid flood waters completely. Wash it with antibacterial soap and warm water. Click here for step-by-step wound treatment instructions.
- If your wound looks red, swollen, feels hot, oozes, or refuses to heal, wash it thoroughly with antibacterial soap and warm water. Seek medical attention as soon as possible. Bacterial skin infections can enter the bloodstream and rapidly cause seriously illness or even death.
- Get a tetanus shot. While rare, if you get even a small cut, it can become infected, especially if it comes in contact with flood waters or contaminated debris.
Here are Doctor Hebert’s own words:
“There are a lot of hazards that must be addressed when confronted with a hurricane’s floodwaters. Notwithstanding the obvious possibility of drowning, most people don’t think of another major danger of wading through the murky water: If you get a large laceration or even a minor cut from hidden debris, you could die of a tetanus infection or any one of a myriad of bacterial infections, which spread very rapidly. At this time it’s still unknown, but I would venture to say that hundreds of people who perished in Hurricane Katrina died from skin infections that spread to the bloodstream. Floodwaters are a cesspool of harmful bacteria and toxic chemicals. I would implore all people who got wounds from walking through the water in the Houston area to wash them with soap and water. If the wounds get warm, red, or start oozing, it’s a sign of infection and you should seek medical attention; your life may depend on it.
“If you are staying in a shelter, you should wash your hands frequently with soap and water, as viruses can spread quickly in crowded quarters. If you can’t wash, use alcohol-based hand sanitizer but know that hand-washing is definitely the better option, since hand sanitizers don’t kill all viruses, including the highly contagious stomach bug norovirus. Sanitizer is more like a backup until you can wash with soap and water.”