1. Flood Water Is Contaminated
Flood water may contain sewage from rivers, soil and manure from fields, dead animals, dust from roads and factory yards, and other dirt. Such a water may contain eventually harmful chemicals, bacteria and parasites.
- Do not drink flood water or store it for watering plants or any other purpose.
- Do not touch flood water or walk through it, but if you have to, then use waterproof protective boots, gloves and clothes. Or a boat.
- After you have moved through the flood unprotected, have a shower with a soap as soon as possible.
Picture 1. Walking through the flood
2. Tap Water May Also Be Contaminated
Flood water can contaminate water supplies and wells and thus tap water. Local health authorities can tell, if tap water is appropriate for drinking or not.
- After a flood, do not drink tap water without explicit confirmation of local health authorities that water is safe. Until then, use only bottled water for drinking, cooking and teeth washing. If not stated otherwise, tap water is appropriate for showering, dish and clothes washing.
Picture 2. Bottled water
3. Flood Water Contaminates What It Touches
Yards, cars, walls and floors, carpets, furniture, clothes, non-canned food, medications, dishes, kitchenware, washing machine, toys and pets are all likely contaminated if flood water has touched them.
- Use gloves when touching anything what has come into contact with flood water, or wash your hands with tap water immediately after that.
4. Infection from the Air Is Not Likely
Bugs do not likely just float in the air during the flood, so infection through breathing is not likely. Persons that developed infectious diarrhea have contagious stool, but skin to skin contact with them is not likely a source of infection. On the other hand, in tropics malaria epidemic is a big threat, because mosquitoes tend to gather in flood areas.
5. What to Do in a Flood?
People from flooded houses should move to a dry place if possible.
- The validity of anti-tetanus vaccine should be checked and renewed if necessary. Having other vaccines right after the flood does not help. Eventual diarrhea mostly heals on its own, antibiotics are used only in prolonged or heavy diarrhea.
6. Indoor Cleaning After the Flood
- After floodwater is pumped from buildings, rooms should be aired and heated if necessary, so the walls can dry off.
- Anything (furniture, carpets, couches, bedding, toys) what has came into a touch with a flood water should be thrown away; valuable things should be cleaned by professional cleaners. All wet food, including packaged food should be thrown away; cans may be kept, but labels should be removed and cans disinfected with chlorine bleach (sodium hypochlorite). Cosmetics, medicines, kitchenware, and cardboard should be also thrown away.
- Dish washer and washing machine should be checked by electrician and disinfected with bleach.
- Clothes may be washed in washing machine, using detergent and bleach, but the latter may react with chemicals from the floodwater, so it is safer to use a professional cleaning service.
7. Outdoor Cleaning
- Yards should be disinfected with lime after waste has been removed. Grass could be left to decontaminate naturally.
- Wells should be disinfected with 10 liters of 3-6% commercial bleach. All faucets should be opened until chlorine smell is detected, then closed for 10 hours, then opened again and water allowed to run until chlorine smell disappears. Water should not be drunk if it has a chlorine smell or taste. 24 hours after disinfection, water should be tested by a registered laboratory.
Caution: chlorine bleach may cause skin burns. Released chlorine may irritate respiratory mucosa and eyes.
Article reviewed by Dr. Greg. Last updated on January 12, 2010