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Flood Cleanup: Don’t Let It Drain Your Health

Friday, July 21, 2017 12:29 PM

If record-setting rains left your basement or neighborhood with a lot of standing water, it’s time to think about protecting your health while you’re drying out. Michael Vernon, DrPH, an epidemiologist and Director of Infection Prevention and Control at NorthShore, answers our questions about staying healthy after a flood.

How do I know if the water in my flooded basement is contaminated?
It’s difficult to know if flooded basement water is contaminated with sewage or if it’s simply rainwater. To play it safe, you should assume it’s contaminated. Wear protective gear – rubber boots, gloves, masks, etc… - before stepping into any standing water. And always make sure the electricity is turned off first.

Can flood water cause diarrheal disease?
Yes, depending on what’s in it, such as sewage, bacteria or chemicals from supplies in your home that were inadvertently dumped into the water. To stay safe, always wash your hands after having contact with flood waters or items taken from the water, even if you’re wearing protective gloves. Do not allow children to play in flood waters or to play with contaminated toys that have not been disinfected.

Do I have to disinfect my basement if I only got a few inches of water in it?
You should make sure you remove and discard contaminated household materials that cannot be disinfected, such as wall coverings, cloth, rugs and drywall. You can wash hard-surfaced floors and many other household surfaces with soap and water and disinfect them with a solution of 1 cup of bleach to five gallons of water. For items that cannot be washed or dry cleaned, such as mattresses and upholstered furniture, air dry them in the sun and then spray them thoroughly with a disinfectant.

After everything dries out, then we’ll have to worry about all the mosquitoes! Do flood waters produce mosquitoes that carry the West Nile virus?
Flooding and torrential downpours make conditions ripe for mosquitoes. Floodwater mosquitoes (Aedes vexans and other species) typically appear two weeks after heavy rains and flooding. While floodwater mosquitoes can be a nuisance, they are rarely infected with West Nile virus. However, as floodwaters recede into ditches, catch basins or other areas where water sits stagnant, house mosquitoes (Culex pipiens) will typically start to appear. House mosquitoes, in areas that have seen West Nile virus in recent years, are often infected with the virus. To reduce your risk of being infected with West Nile virus, you should use insect repellent and wear protective clothing to prevent mosquito bites. Eliminate all sources of standing water if possible, and stay indoors between dusk and dawn when mosquitoes are most active.