After the Hurricane: Preparing for Bacterial Infections from Contamination

October 10th, 2018 by CHHS RAs

By CHHS Extern Courtney Bennett

On October 1, a North Carolina man died from a bacterial infection from floodwater as a result of Hurricane Florence. Like all natural disasters, most families are unprepared for the unexpected water, sewage, and soil contamination after a disaster. After a hurricane, families are always eager to resume their normal routine and repair what remains of their property. In doing so, many people are unaware of the dangers of cleanup efforts and how to maneuver with contaminated floodwater in close proximity. The Center for Disease Control recognizes most infectious diseases may already be present in an area impacted by the hurricane causing contamination in the water and soil.  Specifically North Carolina is known for its hog farming and coal power generation. Pig feces and coal ash poured into the rivers, lakes, and neighborhoods after Hurricane Florence. The contaminated water impacts the neighboring areas because feces are a known carrier of diarrheal diseases. Furthermore, coal ash contains a lot of heavy metals like mercury and arsenic. Exposure to contaminated water poses several health risks to children, elderly, and pregnant individuals who may have a weaker immune system.

Diarrheal diseases such as Cryptosporidium, E. Coli, and Giardia are not the only possible disease from contaminated water after a disaster. Respiratory illnesses are very common and open wounds exposed to floodwater can lead to Tetanus or Vibrio Vulnificus.  The CDC provides in detail information about the dangers of each of these diseases and how families can become familiar with the symptoms and signs.

As Hurricane Michael draws energy to sweep across Florida’s panhandle through Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina around October 11, it is imperative for families to prepare their homes and understand the potential water and soil contamination once the storm is over. Here are a few steps for cleanup inside the house after a hurricane to protect families from potential infections:

  1. Wash skin thoroughly. If you have any open cuts or sores that will be exposed to floodwater, keep them as clean as possible by washing the open wounds with soap and applying an antibiotic ointment to discourage infection.
  2. Boil water. Boil water prior to a hurricane in anticipation that some areas will be impacted by excessive rain. Store the boiled water in clean sanitized containers with tight covers prior to the hurricane. Boiled after a hurricane may or may not be safe depending upon the severity of the water contamination.
  3. Look for other sources of water: Buy bottled water and Canned fruits and vegetables have some source of water
  4. Clean Surface Areas and Appliances: Clean thoroughly with diluted household bleach prior to using refrigerators, toilets, and places that hold water.
  5. Protect your skin. Wear protective gear such as gloves and waterproof boots.


Here are a few steps for cleanup outside the house after a hurricane to protect families from potential infections:

  1. Avoid Flood Areas. Avoid driving through flooded areas and standing water.
  2. Inspect Water and Sewage Source. Have a licensed professional review the home sewage and well system.
  3. Protect your skin. Wear protective gear such as gloves, goggles, and waterproof boots. Make sure open wounds and cuts are protected.
  4. Remove soiled items from the home. Drywall, carpet, and carpet padding are a few things that should be removed immediately if damaged by floodwater.
  5. Take your time. Take breaks and watch your respiratory system. Stay hydrated. Avoid debris and high levels of sitting water.


These are only a few tips to protect you and your family during this hurricane season, please review for more information.

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