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CDC offers health tips to monster storm Sandy victims returning home

Robin Wulffson MD's picture
monster storm Sandy, health hazards, contamination, carbon monoxide

Many Americans received mandatory evacuation orders during the recent monster storm Sandy. Some have returned their home and found it to be relatively unscathed. Others have found varying degrees of damage or complete destruction. For those returning to a habitable home, many hazards may be present. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers guidelines to reduce the risk of damage to you and your family’s health from these hazards.

Do not enter a building if you smell gas. Call 911. Do not light a match or turn on lights.

Wear waterproof boots and gloves to avoid floodwater touching your skin.

Wash your hands often with soap and clean water, or use a hand-cleaning gel with alcohol in it.

Mold frequently follows flooding. To remove mold, mix 1 cup of bleach in 1 gallon of water, wash the item with the bleach mixture, scrub rough surfaces with a stiff brush, rinse the item with clean water, then dry it or leave it to dry. Never mix bleach and ammonia, because the fumes could kill you. Take out items that have soaked up water and that cannot be cleaned and dried. Check and clean heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning systems before use. To clean hard surfaces that do not soak up water and that may have been in contact with floodwater, first wash with soap and clean water. Next disinfect with a mixture of 1 cup of bleach in 5 gallons of water. Then allow to air dry. Wear rubber boots, rubber gloves, and goggles when cleaning with bleach. Open windows and doors to get fresh air.

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Prevent carbon monoxide poisoning by placing generators, pressure washers, charcoal grills, camp stoves, or other fuel-burning devices outside and away from open doors, windows, and air vents. Do not use this equipment indoors or in enclosed or partially enclosed areas such as garages, even with doors or windows open. Do not put these devices outside near an open door, window, or air vent. You could be poisoned or killed by carbon monoxide, an odorless, colorless gas from burning fuel such as gasoline, charcoal, or propane. Make sure a battery or electric powered CO detector is functional to alert you to dangerous levels of carbon monoxide in your home.

Eat and drink only food and water you know are safe. Listen to public announcements to find out if local tap water is safe for drinking, cooking, cleaning, or bathing. Until the water is safe, use bottled water or boil or disinfect water. If a "boil water" advisory is in effect, do not drink tap water or use it to brush your teeth unless water has come to a rolling boil for at least 1 minute or is treated with unscented household chlorine bleach. To treat water, add 1/4 teaspoon (approximately 1.5 mL) bleach to 1 gallon of cloudy water or 1/8 teaspoon (approximately 0.75 mL) bleach to 1 gallon of clear water . Stir well and let it stand for 30 minutes before you use it. Do not eat food that smells bad, looks bad, or has touched floodwater. When in doubt, throw food out.

Prevent Electrical Injuries. Do not touch fallen electrical wires. They may be live and could hurt or kill you. Turn off the electrical power at the main source if there is standing water. Do not turn on power or use an electric tool or appliance while standing in water.

Avoid Contact with Animals and Insects. Reduce mosquito bites. Consider avoiding outdoor activities during the evening and early morning, which are peak biting times for many mosquitoes. Use an insect repellent with DEET or Picaridin. Stay away from wild or stray animals. Stray dogs may be hurt or afraid and may bite. Call local authorities to handle animals. Get rid of dead animals according to local guidelines.

Drive Safely. Stop and look both ways at all intersections. Drive slowly and keep space between you and other vehicles. Watch out for trash on the road. Wear your seatbelt. Do not drive if you have been drinking.

Reference: CDC

See also:
NYU medical research severely impacted by monster storm Sandy
All but one New York Hospital maintained power when monster storm Sandy struck