While it’s a good idea to prepare your home for a flood, part of those arrangements should include plans for reentering your home after it’s been full of water.
That advice can apply to almost anybody.
You don’t have to live in a flood zone like those neighborhoods recently swamped in Louisiana or Florida to experience flooding.
In addition to getting ready in the event of excessive rain or another flood producing catastrophe such as a hurricane or a levee break, experts say knowing what to do when you get back into your house can make a difference, too.
That’s because a number of health hazards could be lurking there.
Electricity, mold, infections
Dr. Parham Jaberi, a public health doctor, and assistant state health officer for the Louisiana Department of Health, said a significant health impact is the threat of being electrocuted.
People who did not turn off their power before fleeing often return to a home filled with standing water — the perfect recipe for disaster.
He advises people seek out an electrician before entering the premises.
Mold is another top health concern.
In the South, high temps and a damp environment can create mold if a home is abandoned for several days or more.
Upon returning to the home, open the windows. While some mold can be cleaned by the homeowner, it gets into other spaces that may need professional remediation.
Image source: commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Louisiana_Flood_15_Aug_2016_I12_20160815 OCDOD0006.jpg
“The most important thing is to reduce the moisture and keep it dry,” Jaberi told Healthline.
Additionally, pay attention to the chemicals you use to clean mold and avoid mixing them.
Hygiene is also a public health issue as floodwaters can introduce harmful bacteria throughout the home from a variety of sources.
Wading through water can also present an opportunity for injury and infection. For those with other conditions such as diabetes, a simple wound could create a deadly infection.
In responding to recent floods in Louisiana, Jaberi said many residents were given tetanus shots as a precaution.
However, people should consider the Tdap vaccination, which guards against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis.
“If you’re going to get one shot why not get them all,” Jaberi said.
Dr. Georges C. Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, said people often experience injuries while cleaning up from a flood.
When contaminated water — which can cause waterborne diseases — is in the mix, it can become a significant health hazard.
“Even your [drinking] water system may not be clear,” he told Healthline.
Standing water also presents the opportunity for reptiles to enter the home, depending on where you live.
If it’s somewhere where Zika is present, it is a good idea to wear bug repellant — not to mention protective clothing — as you clean up.
And if power went out during a flood, spoiled food in the refrigerator should be discarded as it may cause illness.
Benjamin says people should not use gas or propane tanks in their homes if their stoves are out post-storm, as it can release harmful carbon monoxide.
“I think people need to be very careful any time they go back into their home [after a flood],” he added.
Floods can cause the home to be structurally unsound, so having a contractor on hand is important. If your home floods, your insurance company can put you in touch with resources to help you safely manage cleanup efforts.
Benjamin said some credit card companies offer insurance that can help with cleanup costs.
Everyone must prepare
Most importantly, understand that while some local authorities will coordinate resources in mass floods, there’s no single procedure that covers you against all the hazards you may face.
The burden falls on the homeowner, Jaberi said.
A wise precaution is to secure belongings and ensure important papers — including health records and immunization documents — are organized.
Make sure that your medications are in a safe place, and that ice and a cooler are on hand if you have to leave and take your medications with you.
These steps can save time and aggravation if you are forced from your home and have to return to clean it up.
“People need to act now,” Benjamin added.