There has been a warning form public health expert for weeks in the wake of Harvey and Irma, which left Texas and Florida with millions of gallons of sewage and virtually covered in bacteria.
Now. Their words of warning perhaps ring more strongly because of a woman in Texas died from a horrific infection caused by flesh-eating bacteria.
The report said that the woman, 77-year-old Nancy Reed, had fallen previously and broken her arm inside a flooded house in Houston, enabling bacteria from the floodwaters to seep into the wound.
It is still not clear which bacteria is the culprit, however, Rachel Noble, a professor of marine biology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said that she suspects it may have been Vibrio, a marine microbe that poses a rare but potentially deadly risk to anymore with an open wound.
“I have very little information to go on, but the speed with which she became severely ill, and the symptoms and descriptions match,” Noble said.
The floodwaters in Florida and Texas are plagued by bacteria from two sources: Sewage system an open ocean.
While the microbes found in sewage make you sick, it’s the marine microbes that Noble said people should be the most concerned about.
During the wake of Hurricane Katrina, five people died and 22 lost limbs as a result of Vibrio infections. The biggest concern for these infections are “Open wound and scrapes,” Noble said.
“If people with those are exposed to floodwaters and things that came in contact with flood waters, they need to be vigilant … they need to be seen, and they need to not sleep on the wounds,” Noble said. “These things can progress over a 10 hour period to a point of no return requiring amputation.”
Noble also said that anyone who comes into direct contact with floodwater and experiences infection-like symptoms keep a close eye on any open wounds. She also advises that looking out for any areas that get “hot and angry,” or red and raised. Symptoms like fever and chills can also be a warning sign for Vibroinfetion she said.
Richard Bradley, the chief of emergency medical services and disaster medicine at the University of Texas’s McGovern Medical School, said that because the bacterial count in floodwater gets so high, the chance of getting a skin infection is serious.
“Floodwater mixes with everything below it,” he said. “If it covers a field with pesticides, it picks up the pesticides. It can also carry animal waste from fields and forests.”
Yet another problem in flooded areas is unexpected wildlife, since snakes, insects, and other wild animals can be drawn to the water or swept up in it.
“Storm activity definitely increases the potential for snakebite as the snakes get flooded out and seek higher ground,” Bryan Fry, an expert on venomous snakes at the University of Queensland in Australia, said in a report.
Other dangers persist even after floodwaters recede since wet environments in homes and buildings are ideal for mold. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, close to half of all inspected homes had visible mold, according to CDC. Mosquitoes and other pests are also attracted to standing water.
Regardless of where you are, the ways to keep yourself safe are the same: ensure you’ve gotten your vaccinations, wash your hands frequently, and let your doctor know if you have any cuts or open wounds that have come into contact with potentially dangerous water.
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