Don't Let Storm Dangers Threaten Your Health and Safety
Hurricane Idalia has cleared the region, but that doesn’t mean the threats have passed. Lingering dangers from storms can cause health risks and other problems when you least expect it, particularly when cleaning up debris and other items around your home or business.
Standing water left after a storm is a magnet for mosquitoes and becomes their breeding ground. Drain standing storm water from any containers where water collected. Garbage cans, gutters, pool covers, buckets, flowerpots, toys, and coolers are all usual places where water will collect.
To protect yourself from mosquitoes, clean up storm debris as soon as possible. Where long sleeves, long pants, shoes and socks, and use mosquito spray while cleaning up storm debris. Mosquito spray is not safe for children less than two months old, however.
If a well has been submerged in floodwater, it should be tested once the water recedes, since floodwater may have entered the well casing and contaminated the well. It is recommended that residents boil the water or use an alternate water source until it has been tested and found to be safe. DOH-Hillsborough does not carry out private well sampling; however, residents can email DOH-Hillsborough at Info.HillsWeb@flhealth.gov, for a list of State-certified laboratories in Hillsborough County.
Sanitation and hygiene: preventing waterborne illness
Basic hygiene is very important during this emergency period. Always wash your hands with soap and water after participating in cleanup activities, and after handling items contaminated by floodwater or sewage.
Flooding that occurs after heavy rain may mean that water contains fecal matter from sewage systems, agricultural and industrial waste, and septic tanks. If you have open cuts or sores exposed to floodwater, keep them as clean as possible by washing them with soap and clean water. Apply antibiotic ointment to reduce the risk of infection. If a wound or sore develops redness, swelling or drainage, see a physician.
Do not allow children to play in floodwater. They can be exposed to water contaminated with fecal matter. Do not allow children to play with toys that have been in floodwater until the toys have been disinfected. Use ¼-cup of bleach in 1 gallon of water.
If you get your drinking water from a private well and live in an area that has experienced flooding:
Disinfect your well using the procedures available from your local health department or provided on the Florida Department of Health website. Have your water tested by your local health department, or by a laboratory certified by the State to do drinking water analyses.
If your home is served by a septic tank:
If your plumbing is functioning slowly, conserve water as much as possible. Minimize the use of washing machines, and flush toilets only as necessary. Fix any plumbing leaks as soon as possible. DO NOT have your septic tank pumped until the soil surrounding the tank is dry. When the ground is saturated with water, the tank might collapse if it is pumped dry. If the problem is a high water table, pumping the tank will not help. Septic systems are generally functional once flood waters go down. Remember: If your system was damaged, repairs must be permitted and inspected by the county health department.
How to clean up sewage-contaminated items:
Walls, hard-surfaced floors, and many other household surfaces should be cleaned with soap and water and optionally disinfected with a solution of ¼ cup of bleach to 1 gallon of water. Do not mix ammonia cleansers with bleach, as toxic vapors will form. Wash all linens and clothing in hot water, or dry clean them. Items that cannot be washed or dry cleaned, such as mattresses, carpeting, and upholstered furniture, should be discarded. Protective clothing such as rubber boots and waterproof gloves should be worn during cleanup. Remove and discard contaminated household materials that cannot be disinfected, such as wall coverings, cloth, rugs, and drywall. Once cleanup is complete, it is important to dry out affected items to prevent the growth of mold.
To protect against health risks associated with mold:
Remove standing water from your home or office. Remove wet materials. If mold growth has already occurred, carefully remove or clean the moldy material. Consider using personal protective equipment when cleaning or removing mold – gloves, goggles, and an N-95 particle respirator (found at most local hardware stores). Check with a health care provider before wearing a respirator. Do not use a respirator if you have heart disease or chronic lung disease such as asthma or emphysema. Individuals with known mold allergies or asthma should not clean or remove moldy materials.
Animal bite prevention:
Be cautious and alert around unfamiliar animals. In general, do not approach animals, particularly wild or injured animals. If you are bitten, wash the wound thoroughly and contact your health care provider and local animal control department. A walking stick 5- to 6-feet long may be an effective tool for keeping animals at bay while working your way toward a vehicle or other means of escape.
Prevent foodborne illness:
Don’t eat any food that may have been in contact with contaminated water from floods or storm surge. Undamaged, commercially canned foods can be saved if you remove the labels and then disinfect them in a solution of ¼ cup of bleach in 1 gallon of water; re-label the cans, including expiration date and type of food. Assume that home-canned food is unsafe. Infants should be fed only pre-prepared baby formula. Do not use powdered formulas prepared with treated water. Use sterile water when preparing formula. Do not eat fish taken from floodwater.
Hillsborough County's official notification system for emergency messages and urgent information is HCFL Alert. Sign up to receive messages by email, phone, and text at HCFLGov.net/HCFLAlert.