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County Health Department warns of home flooding health risks

Due to the wet start to spring, Niagara County Public Health Director Daniel J. Stapleton is advising communities to prevent health risks associated with home flooding. Problems could include: bacterial and viral contamination from sewage backup, and mold growth from residual moisture. These problems can lead to human infection and illnesses.

Flooding may cause wastewater to back up into homes that have private septic systems.  Once the water recedes, a high water table may still prevent these systems from functioning properly for some time. But residents with municipal sewer systems may also experience sewage back-up, as well, caused by surging floodwater overwhelming older systems or power outages during a storm surge. Sewage contains bacteria, viruses, and other germs that can cause disease.

The most common symptoms after exposure to raw sewage are stomach and bowel distress (nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea) and skin problems, like rashes and sores. If you experience these symptoms after exposure to sewage, you should contact your health care providers.  

“Wear rubber boots and waterproof gloves during cleanup if sewage has backed up into your home,” Stapleton advises. “Remove and discard contaminated household goods such as wall coverings, rugs, cloth and drywall that cannot be disinfected.”

Be sure to thoroughly disinfect all contaminated surfaces that come in contact with food and children's play areas.  Disinfect non-porous surfaces with a solution of three tablespoons of bleach to one gallon of water (or one cup to five gallons). Never mix bleach with ammonia cleaners.

Individuals with open cuts or sores should try to avoid contact with sewage-contaminated floodwater. If accidentally exposed, keep skin (especially any cuts or sores) as clean as possible by washing with soap and clean water, then apply antibiotic ointment and cover with a sterile bandage to reduce the risk of infection. If you have deep cuts and/or puncture wounds and have not had a tetanus vaccination within the past 10 years, or are unsure of the date of the last tetanus shot, get a tetanus booster.  

For additional information on managing sewage back-ups, go to:  http://www.niagaracounty.com/Portals/4/Docs/Sewage_Backup_Fact_Sheet.pdf

Mold will grow in flooded homes and buildings that do not dry out quickly.  People living or working in buildings with wet carpets, walls, mattresses or furniture may develop health problems such as allergies, asthma and sneezing. People at highest risk are those with allergies, asthma, chronic respiratory diseases, infants, pregnant women and individuals with compromised immune systems. For information on preventing and managing mold, go to: https://www.health.ny.gov/publications/7287.pdf

For information on drinking water and food guidance after a flood, go to: https://www.health.ny.gov/publications/6553/index.htm

For any other questions about flooding health risks, call county Department of Health's Environmental Health Division at 439-7444.

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