Floodwater causes health concerns in flooded homes - Quincy Herald-Whig | Illinois & Missouri News, Sports

Floodwater causes health concerns in flooded homes

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By MAGGIE MENDERSKI
Herald-Whig Staff Writer

Floodwater can wreak havoc on the body just as easily as it damages property.

James Gragg, director of occupational health solutions for Quincy Medical Group, cautioned that displaced water often picks up contaminants as it streams over levees and flows into basements.

Last weekend, several basements in Quincy were inundated when local creeks flooded and officials in Hannibal, Mo., closed the towns floodgates in preparation for a rising Mississippi River. Bacteria and fungi breed easily in outdoor standing water as well as flooded basements and garages.

"After a flood, the water had been in places where it normally isn't or hasn't been," Gragg said. "It's because of that that some health concerns might arise."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends using rubber boots, rubber gloves and goggles when cleaning up a flooded area. Exposure to bacteria and fungi might cause upper respiratory difficulties, diarrhea and staph infections. The strenuous work involved in building up levees or clearing out basements increases the risk of injury. Open wounds should always be kept away from contaminated water.

Musab Saeed, an infectious disease specialist with Quincy Medical Group, said all wounds should be cleaned and bandaged immediately to avoid infections. If the wound becomes severe enough, the injured person should seek medical attention as soon as possible.

"Anything painful and unusual, call your doctor and at least you'll get some guidelines," Saeed said.

Cross contamination also poses a risk. Keep all water bottles and food items away from floodwater, and wash hands frequently during cleanup. The CDC advises washing hands with water that has been boiled for at least a full minute.

Clothing worn during flood cleanup should be washed separately from unaffected clothing. Gragg warned that clothing often serves as a means of transferring bacteria into the body.

"People are sweating," he said. "They're wiping their brows with wet, soggy clothes, and that's contaminated water they're wiping on their faces."

This spring, Gragg spent eight hours removing floodwater from his own basement. He said everyday household items might pose a health risk when mixed with floodwater. The water that entered his home had mixed with two containers of bleach. He said homeowners should watch for paint thinners, pesticides and cleaning products when working in contaminated water.

Waterlogged items that can't be washed or disinfected should be thrown out. Water-damaged mattresses, upholstered furniture, cosmetics, stuffed animals, baby toys, pillows, foam-rubber items, books, wall coverings and most paper products should be discarded, according to the CDC. Gragg said these hot spots for mold and mildew growth increase the likelihood for upper respiratory infections.

Saeed said any food products brought in contact with floodwater should not be consumed.

Gragg also noted the emotional toll that flooding can take on a person. He said floodwater that gets in homes often damages photos and precious memorabilia. As people care for their physical needs, it's important for them to cope with their emotional needs, as well. Families that have experienced a great loss might need to consider counseling.

"They're always commenting about how they still have their health and their family and the rest of these things are just things," Gragg said. "Well, ‘just things' mean a lot to people."

 

--mmenderski@whig.com/221-3385

 

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