Serious Health Hazards May Lurk in Michael's Devastation

Pam Wright
Published: October 12, 2018

People cut away a tree that'll on a vehicle in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael in Panama City, Fla., Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018.
(AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

While some residents may think the danger has passed now that Michael has left their state, health experts say a multitude of dangers may lurk and linger affected areas for months.  

Electrocution from downed power lines, animal bites, carbon monoxide poisoning and infections are just some of the health risks associated with a natural disaster like Hurricane Michael, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

 

“Hurricanes are dangerous and destructive  – they can cause high winds, flooding, heavy rain, and storm surges," Dr. Renee Funk, associate director for emergency management at the CDC’s National Center for Environmental Health, told weather.com. "But some of the most serious dangers to human health happen after the storm, such as car accidents and carbon monoxide poisonings. Recovering from a hurricane is hard work and it is important we check on each other.”

During a Thursday press conference, Florida Gov. Rick Scott emphasized safety as his No. 1 priority during the recovery stage of the disaster.

"We will stop at nothing to keep people safe," he said, urging Panhandle residents to refrain from returning to their homes until the area is made safe.

"We are deploying a massive wave of response and those efforts are already underway," Scott said. "Help is coming by air, land, and sea." 

Scott also warned residents to be cautious using generators. Using a generator can lead to a build-up of carbon monoxide in a home, garage or mobile home, which can lead to illness and all too frequently, death, the CDC notes.

Here are a few of the health risks associated with storm recovery:

Electrocution

Downed power lines and generators pose a serious health hazard, especially anytime water is near.

"If water has been present anywhere near electrical circuits and electrical equipment, turn off the power at the main breaker or fuse on the service panel," the CDC warns. "Do not turn the power back on until electrical equipment has been inspected by a qualified electrician."

Upon arrival at your home after a disaster, turn off the electricity and thoroughly inspect for frayed wires in your home before turning the electricity back on. And never turn it on if there is standing water in or around your home. 

Injuries 

The massive amount of debris left behind by Michael can lead to all sorts of injuries.

It is important to care for wounds to avoid illness or even death. If you already have an open wound, try to avoid standing water that can be full of harmful substances and bacteria.

While cleaning up, it's important to wear sturdy footwear and appropriate protective clothing to avoid injury.

The CDC says it is also important to follow chainsaw rules, including the practice of periodically checking and adjusting the tension of the chainsaw blade and again, wearing protective gear such as hard hat, safety glasses, hearing protection, heavy work gloves and cut-resistant legwear.

(MORE: How to Help Those Impacted by Hurricane Michael)

Infections

If you do have an open wound, be sure to wash it thoroughly with soap and water, keep it covered with sterile, water-proof dressings and "seek immediate medical care if a wound develops redness, swelling, or oozing or other signs of working infection such as fever, increasing pain, shortness of breath, fast heart rate, or confusion or disorientation, high heart rate," the CDC notes.

Water-borne intestinal infections are another concern  frequently associated with natural disasters. Eating or drinking anything that has been contaminated with dirty water can cause diarrheal illnesses, including diarrhea stemming from E. Coli.

Listen to local authorities and media, who will announce boil-water advisories after a disaster if they are needed.

To be safe, your family might want to rely on bottled water or you can bring water to a rolling boil for one minute and let it cool entirely before consuming, according to the CDC. 

Animal and Insect Bites

Disasters like hurricanes displace animals from their natural habitat, sometimes forcing them into unfamiliar urban settings. 

It's important to remember that many animals are fleeing in fear from areas in which they feel safe. The stress may make them lash out and bite, so it is important to give displaced animals a wide berth to avoid injuries. 

Even stray dogs or dogs left behind by their owners in storms can lead to injury, illnesses or even death. It is best to alert authorities and let them collect any strays and keep your own pets on a leash or fenced in. 

Rodents and snakes have their own set of risks, including rabies, poisoning, rat-bite fever and other illnesses. 

To prevent animals, rodents and even insects from coming near your home after a disaster, avoid leaving food and water out and dispose of trash as quickly as possible. 

Mosquitoes breed in standing water, so standing water left behind by the storm can lead to a proliferation of mosquitoes and the diseases linked to them, including West Nile Virus, so get rid of any standing water in your yard as quickly as possible.

Dangerous Materials

To avoid chemical burns or other injuries, the CDC says it is best to call the fire department to inspect or remove chemicals, propane tanks and other dangerous materials. 

If you do come in contact with chemicals, wash the area thoroughly.

Be cautious of car batteries. They may still hold an electrical charge and can ooze dangerous acid, the CDC warns. 

Other CDC recommendations to avoid injury include:

• To reach a roof, use a ladder that is at least three feet higher than the edge of the roof.
• Do not stand on top two steps of a ladder.
• If you use candles, make sure you put them in safe holders away from curtains, paper, wood, or other flammable items.
• Stay away from damaged buildings or structures until they have been examined and certified as safe by a building inspector or other government authority.
• Leave immediately if you hear shifting or unusual noises that signal that the structure may fall or if you smell gas or suspect a leak.
• Pace yourself and get help to avoid both physical and emotional exhaustion.


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