What hygiene measures should be taken after a flood to avoid health effects?

As the rain stopped and the floodwaters began to recede, the process of cleaning and rebuilding began, not without health risks.

Sara Contreras, director of nursing at Andrés Bello University’s Concepcion campus, warned that measures must be taken at this stage of the emergency.

For example, he noted, “When the water recedes, affected areas are often covered with silt and mud that can be contaminated with hazardous materials such as sharp debris, pesticides, fuel and untreated sewage.”

Additionally, potentially dangerous mold growth can quickly overwhelm flooded buildings, leading to outbreaks of waterborne diseases such as typhoid, hepatitis A, and cholera.

“For this, we have to think about short, medium and long-term measures. As a first measure, we can consider not doing cleaning work until the water recedes, not dealing with electrical equipment, and keeping switches or heating off at all times.

Also, do not touch downed power cords, wear rubber boots and gloves when cleaning, ventilate the room, and remove food that has been in contact with water and that has been sitting for more than two hours. Do not refrigerate.

“Discard items that cannot be washed and disinfected, such as mattresses, rugs, rugs, toys, walls and wall coverings, and paper products,” she advises.

Microbial proliferation and respiratory problems

Standing water and damp materials are ideal environments for microbes such as viruses, bacteria and mold that can cause illness, cause allergic reactions and continue to damage materials long after a flood has passed, experts say.

Excessive home humidity can affect indoor air quality for three reasons.

First, “microorganisms that enter homes during flooding can be a health hazard. They can penetrate deeply into submerged porous materials and then be released into the air or water. Exposure to air or water containing these organisms may cause illness.”

The second factor to consider is that high humidity and damp materials create an ideal environment for the ever-present microbial overgrowth in the home, which can lead to further health problems such as allergic reactions. Finally, chronically increased humidity in the home also promotes the growth of dust mites, one of the leading causes of allergic reactions and asthma.

“The drying process may take several weeks, and as long as the humidity is high, microbes will continue to grow. If the house is not completely dry, there may be a musty smell, which is a sign of microbial growth long after the flood.” Experts advise.

It’s not uncommon for people to develop lung problems after natural disasters. Faced with this situation, monitor for any respiratory symptoms that may arise, including: coughing, especially at night, wheezing or shortness of breath, chest tightness or pain. “If your fingernails or lips turn blue or if you experience severe chest pain, seek emergency medical help immediately.”

Cleaning up of hazardous substances

In addition, as a specific measure to clean up wreckage or flooded houses, the scholar mentioned. “Don’t let your children play in floodwater, and don’t play with rocks, dirt or debris in floodwater. If you or your child have an open wound that has been exposed to contaminated water, you may need a tetanus booster shot to prevent disease.”

Tip: Wear rubber boots and gloves when cleaning, and be sure to protect or cover any wounds. “It’s important for everyone to practice basic hygiene, washing their hands or using hand sanitiser often, especially before handling food or food containers.”

drinking water and food contamination

Another important advantage is the intake and use of water and food. In this sense, Contreras emphasizes, “Contaminated water should not be used for washing hands, washing dishes, brushing teeth, cleaning or preparing food, making ice or preparing milk for babies. Use liquid milk if possible. Furthermore , drinking water must be disinfected by boiling or chlorination, or alternative water sources must be identified (such as bottled water)”.

Regarding food or any other object that has been contaminated “should be thrown in the trash, including canned food, bottled water, cutlery, interior surfaces (especially those used to prepare baby food) and pacifiers, teats or pacifiers”.

You may also need to throw out spoiled or contaminated food if you’ve been without power for an extended period of time.

surface contamination

Another important point is that contaminated surfaces need to be sanitized to kill germs. Household bleach (chlorine) is effective and inexpensive and can be found in supermarkets. Bleach solution should be left on contaminated surfaces for at least 2 minutes before cleaning.

Cleaning, sterilization and disinfection products should not be used near children and adequate ventilation must be maintained during any cleaning or sterilization process to prevent inhalation of potentially toxic vapors.

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