Flood Victims Should Take Precautions to Prevent Health Risks

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Release date: 
October 9, 1999
Release Number: 
1296-08

ALBANY, N.Y. -- Cleaning up a storm-ravaged home - one of the first steps toward recovery - can be a difficult and disheartening task. It can also be dangerous. Homeowners could be at risk for a variety of hidden dangers, from gas leaks to faulty ceilings to pools of water, which may become a breeding ground for potentially virus-carrying mosquitoes.

An increase in the mosquito population is one possible hazard of the floods caused by the hurricane. The majority of these mosquitoes will merely be pests and not carry communicable diseases, but health officials are encouraging flood victims to take several precautions. Local, state, and federal public health authorities will be actively working to control the spread of any mosquito-borne diseases.

If you have concerns about mosquitoes, the New York State Department of Health is advising the following precautions:

  • Eliminate any items that may collect standing water that provides a mosquito-breeding area
  • Repair all screen doors and windows that may provide a mosquito access
  • Minimize outdoor activities between dusk and dawn
  • Wear long sleeve shirt and long pants when spending time outdoors in likely mosquito habitats such as woods or wetlands
  • Use an insect repellent containing DEET, according to label instructions, when spending time outdoors.

Following are other important steps flood victims can take to minimize health risks:

  • Homeowners should assume that anything touched by floodwater is contaminated. Mud left by floodwater can contain chemicals from sources as varied as your garden chemicals to a neighbor's propane tank to the oven cleaner you stored in the kitchen. Remove as much mud as possible. Plan to disinfect the basement at a later date.

  • Homes with flood damage may have damp areas where molds, mildews and other fungal organisms thrive. A combination of household bleach and soap or detergent can be used to wash down walls, floors and other mold-contaminated areas.

  • Once you've checked your water system for leaks, hose down the inside of the house and its contents. It's best to use an attachment that sprays soap to wash and rinse the walls, floors, furniture, sockets, electrical boxes and other major items that got muddy. Always wash your hands with soap and clean water after working in the area.

  • Remove heating and cooling registers and ducts, then hose the ducts to prevent contamination at a later date. After hosing ductwork, wash with a disinfectant or sanitizer that is phenolic or pine-oil based. If ducts are in a slab or otherwise inaccessible, have them cleaned professionally.

For more information, a joint publication of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the American Red Cross is available. For a free copy of "Repairing Your Flooded Home," call FEMA Publications at 1-800-480-2520.

Last Updated: 
July 16, 2012 - 18:46
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