Friday, September 1, 2017

Following the Flood: Safely Returning Home

Author: Parham Jaberi, MD, Assistant State Health Officer, Assistant Secretary for Office of Public Health

Mold. Snakes and other reptiles. Sharp objects. Deep water, and possibly contaminated drinking water.

These are all hazards that people face when returning home to a flooded house or structure. The Louisiana Department of Health advises all residents to be aware of the dangers flood waters pose and to take all appropriate precautions.

Stay Out of Flood Water

Flood water may be mixed with sewage or other dangerous contaminants. Shower or wash off after coming in contact with floodwater. Wash clothes that come into contact with floodwater in hot, soapy water immediately afterward. Make sure children stay away from flood waters.

Do not drive through flood water. Water only a few feet deep can cause a vehicle to float or stall.
Flood water may also hide other dangers, such as exposed electrical wires or sharp objects. The safest course of action is to stay out of flood waters.

Stay Informed

Keep aware of your situation through local radio or TV broadcasts. Keep an eye out for boil advisories for public drinking water or other public health alerts. Follow the guidance of emergency authorities.

Be Aware of Snakes and other Wild Creatures

The threat posed by snakes, alligators, other wild animals and insects may increase during times of flooding. Venomous snakes, alligators, leeches and fire ants are all potentially threatening creatures that you may encounter during a flood.

Mosquitoes and West Nile Virus

For the most part, it isn’t during the flooding when mosquitos abound, but it’s the weeks following a flood that provides the most ideal conditions for mosquitoes. Mosquito eggs lay dormant in the cracks and crevices of flood plains. Then, when the water comes, the eggs hatch. In about a week or so, swarms of mosquitoes emerge. Although most of these new mosquitos will be marsh mosquitos, anytime there are more mosquitoes, the risk of a mosquito-borne disease outbreak such as West Nile virus can increase. People should exercise a more robust level of caution.

Vaccinate Against Diseases

If you are displaced from your home, you should contact your health care provider and ask about vaccines. Residents who have experienced a cut or puncture wound should make sure they are up-to-date on their tetanus vaccines.

All first responders should also be up-to-date on their tetanus vaccine.

Mold Removal Guidance

For residents who are returning to homes that have been flooded, mold removal is a top priority.

Breathing in mold can lead to adverse health effects similar to seasonal allergies. Those with asthma or other underlying medical conditions may be more susceptible to the allergic effects of mold.

The Environmental Protection Agency and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that trained mold remediation professionals do the mold clean up if mold growth covers more than 100 square feet, or a 10-by-10 foot area. For a list of licensed professionals, visit the Louisiana Licensing Board for Contractors’ website.

If the area of mold growth is small enough to clean yourself, ensure that you have appropriate personal protective equipment before starting. Wear gloves, a breathing mask and eye protection.

Take the following tips from the CDC to clean mold in your home:

  •         Protect yourself – Put on personal protective equipment (gloves, mask, goggles) to protect your eyes, nose, mouth and skin.
  •         Toss! – Take it out. Anything that was wet with flood water and can’t be completely clean and dried should be taken outside. Take photos of discarded items for insurance claims.
  •         Air it out – Open all doors and windows when you are working, and leave as many open as you safely can when you sleep.
  •         Circulate – When electricity is safe to use, use fans and dehumidifiers to remove moisture.
  •         Don’t mix cleaners – If you use cleaning products, do not mix cleaning products together. DO NOT mix bleach and ammonia because it can create toxic vapors.
  •         Scrub surfaces – Clean with water and detergent. Remove all mold you can see. Dry right away.
  •         Don’t cover it, remove it – Painting or caulking over mold will not prevent it from growing. Fix the water problem completely and clean up all the mold before you paint or caulk.
  •         Dry it up - Dry your home and everything in it as quickly as possible – within 24 to 48 hours if you can.

    For more guidance on mold removal, see this information from the CDC.

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