Every year, floods cause much damage and suffering. In most cases, floods are followed by an outbreak of disease. We look at some ways to stay protected against infections after a flood.
By Ashwin Dewan
For the past few weeks, the southern Indian state of Kerala has been struggling to cope with the effects of a devastating flood, the first of its kind in nearly a century. Many homes have been submerged in water, thousands rendered homeless including a large number of children and the elderly. People from all over India have lent a helping hand in the form of donations and relief material. Even as the rains have receded a little, another danger looms large — that of diseases such as malaria, dengue and typhoid, because of the widespread water contamination, unhygienic living conditions and lack of proper toilet facilities.
*Dr Santhosh says, "After a flood, there is a high chance of people getting affected by various diseases. These include water-borne diseases like typhoid, cholera and hepatitis A, and vector-borne diseases like malaria and dengue. People should go back to their homes only after it has been declared safe."
But, there are certain ways through which people can safeguard themselves against the threat of diseases after a flood.
1. Minimise contact with floodwater: During a flood, people must wade through floodwater to higher ground or to safety. Even though there is no alternative way to avoid floodwater, you should not stay in it for long. It is contaminated and carries bacteria and germs along with human and animal faeces. Exposure to this water can lead to many skin problems as well as other diseases. Ensure you bathe in clean water and try to change clothes if you have been in floodwaters.
2. Drink only boiled water: One of the main concerns after a flood is the availability of clean drinking water. Make sure that any water used for drinking or food preparation purpose has been boiled. Chlorine is also an effective method to fight most water-borne pathogens. Drinking water that is not purified or may have been contaminated can lead to a host of diseases such as typhoid, diarrhoea and gastroenteritis.
3. Set health guidelines in place: Post a flood, ensure you and your family members go for a health check-up. This is important to make sure you have not been affected by any disease. Some steps that can be followed to reduce the impact of diseases include early treatment and diagnosis, and the availability of proper treatment procedures. Be sure to check that medicines have not been affected by floodwater.
"During and after a flood, children are prone to hypothermia; so, measures should be taken to prevent the same," says Dr Santhosh.
4. Get a vaccine: Going for a vaccination post a natural disaster, such as a flood, is always advisable. This is also an effective method to stop the outbreak of diseases. For children, especially young ones, whose immunity is still developing, vaccines are a must after a flood as they have been exposed to germs and bacteria.
5. Wash hands with soap: One of the main dangers to safeguard against after a flood situation is the transmission of germs from the hands. Try to avoid this by washing your hands regularly. Use soap or a hand sanitiser to wash hands before eating, before and after using the toilet, and after handling items that may have been contaminated by floodwater. Take an effort, especially, to wash children’s hands frequently.
6. Avoid mosquitoes: During floods and even after the water levels recede, there is an increase in the mosquito population. This increases the chances of you being exposed to diseases like malaria and dengue. Use clothes that cover your hands and legs completely, and use mosquito repellents and cream to ward off this deadly threat. Ensure that there is no stagnant water in and around the house. Additionally, make sure breeding grounds of mosquitoes like swamps and lake bodies are taken care of. Note: Be careful when using insect repellents and cream on children.
7. Prevent carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning: According to the US-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is always the danger of carbon monoxide poisoning after a flood. To prevent this, do not use generators in indoor spaces that include garages, basements, porches, sheds, etc. As far as possible, a generator should be operated away from all these places.
8. Be careful of cuts or puncture wounds: During a flood, many things including sharp ones like needles and broken glass are floating in the water. While crossing floodwaters, you may get a cut or a scratch. Seek medical help immediately; as over time, the wound may get infected and even turn septic. If there is no medical facility available, wash the wound with soap and clean or bottled water.
The moving waters in a flood situation are not the only risk. You can also be in danger of standing waters that can spread diseases. Once the flood subsides and you return home, remove all items that may have been damaged by floodwater or sewage. Wear protective equipment like rubber boots and waterproof gloves while doing so.
*Dr Santosh Atmanand Revankar is Consultant - Physician and Diabetologist at a leading hospital in Bengaluru.