What you need to know:
Two natural disasters have devastated different parts of the world this past week. Hurricane* Florence caused destruction to the Southeastern coastal region of the United States, while Typhoon* Mangkhut has slammed parts of the Philippines, Hong Kong, and southern China. There are hidden health hazards to consider in the wake of these powerful storms.
Flood waters are a key contributor to disease following a major storm because it may be contaminated with chemicals, sewage, and sharp debris such as glass and metal. In addition, pooled water increases the breeding activity of mosquitoes, which puts the population at risk for mosquito-borne infections such as West Nile and Zika viruses. The combination of flood waters and elevated temperatures may result in the growth of mold, which can trigger allergies and exacerbate asthma. Conjunctivitis, rashes, ear, nose, and throat issues may appear following exposure. Gastrointestinal disease with diarrhea is common as people consume contaminated drinking water or food that has been in contact with polluted water. In developing countries flood water may be contaminated with disease such as yellow fever, cholera, or typhoid.
In addition to negative physical health consequences following a severe storm, mental health is also a major concern. Persons impacted may suffer from anxiety and depression, or may find their diagnosed mental illness worsens because of the stress related to the disaster.
Persons returning to a flooded home should be aware that wildlife such as snakes, rats, and mice often become displaced due to flooding and may be found inside domesticated areas. Caution should be exercised when walking in flood waters as fallen power lines may be submerged or underground and live, which increases the risk for electrocution.
When cleanup begins rubber boots and gloves should be worn to avoid direct contact with contaminated surfaces. Parents and caregivers should ensure that any children’s toys that were touched by flood water are thoroughly cleaned with soap, water, and disinfected with bleach. Persons staying in shelters need to practice meticulous hand hygiene with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer to prevent spread of disease. Any open wounds should remain clean, dry, and covered to prevent infection. Anyone near standing water should wear a mosquito repellant that contains DEET.
*The term hurricane is used when describing a storm in the Atlantic, central and northeast Pacific oceans, and the Caribbean Sea, whereas typhoon describes a storm in the northwest Pacific Ocean.
Read More about Post-Hurricane/Typhoon Health Hazards:
Tintinalli’s Emergency Medicine, 8e: Chapter 6. Natural Disasters > Hurricanes
Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine, 20 e: Chapter 120. Climate Change and Infectious Disease > Vector-borne Disease
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. State and Local Readiness > Preparedness and Safety Messaging for Hurricanes, Flooding, and Similar Disasters