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After Sandy: Post Flooding Health Risks

Hurricane Sandy has come and gone, and the cleanup process is just beginning. The chore of repairing damage to homes, businesses, and infrastructure will in all likelihood be measured in months if not years, and the damage costs will no doubt total in the millions. There is another problem however, one that may be just in the beginning stages, and that is the multitude of health risks that invariably crop up whenever flooding occurs, especially on such a large scale. The problems experienced by residents and property owners may be physical and psychological in nature.

Many people in the aftermath of a flood report health issues related to stress, anxiety, and the depression that comes with losing your property and possessions, and many of these same people also experience increased problems with dermatitis, worsening asthma, and chest infections.

Bacterial infections are quite common in the period following a flood, with dirty water, mud and silt coming into the home and backyard, residents may find themselves with diarrhoeal disease and skin or soft tissue infections.  It becomes important to make sure that you clean and bandage any cuts or scratches in order to avoid infection.

Floodwater may also contain leptospirosis, a disease caused by a pathogen found in rat urine. These bacteria enter the body through breaks in the skin and may cause flu like symptoms. You should always clean any part of your body that has come into contact with floodwater, and make sure that immunizations, including tetanus, are up to date.

Post flood injury is another threat, with surfaces becoming slippery, and damaged homes providing all manner of jagged or sharp edges for you to cut yourself on. In addition, electricity and water do not mix, and people are killed or injured every year while working in flooded homes with the power still on. Falling trees are another problem; a firefighter was recently killed following an extreme weather event when an enormous tree limb fell on his truck. You should always be aware of the environment in which you are working, and make sure you have dressed properly for the occasion, with steel toed boots, long pants and sleeve, eye protection, and where required, headgear and breathing apparatus.

After a day or two has passed, be on the lookout for the presence of mold, which usually establishes itself in areas affected by any sort of water damage. Mold in these damaged structures may trigger sneezing, nasal congestion, coughing, and respiratory infections. It may also worsen existing asthma and allergy conditions.  People with weak or compromised immune systems are particularly at risk for problems with mold. In many cases such as this, a qualified mold removal specialist is recommended in order to make sure that the home is properly treated.

Yes, the flood is bad enough, but in many cases, the problem may be just beginning when it comes to matters of your health. Take care and exercise caution when working in and around flood waters.

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