Health Hazards After Disasters
Clean up crews who began putting New Orleans back together after Katrina reported a hazard nobody anticipated: an abundance of snakes – everywhere.
As we have seen recently from the cleanup after Hurricane Sandy slammed New Jersey and New York, the initial dangers of a natural disaster may pass in a day or two, but other dangers can linger long afterward. Here are some post-storm dangers to watch out for:
- Animals, insects or reptiles where they aren’t supposed to be. Fire, flood, hurricanes and snowstorms can drive outside critters inside. Especially after a flood, carefully move debris or enter cars or houses that have been affected or left empty. Fires and floods can drive wildlife into urban areas and the animals can be confused, frightened and aggressive. Abandoned dogs that were once good pets may become predatory when hungry and out of their element. If you encounter an animal out of it’s element, call a wildlife specialist or animal control office. If those services aren’t operating, it’s best to make a wide berth.
- Mosquitos can breed in small amounts of standing water, even saltwater in some cases. Female mosquitos can lay upward of 100 eggs at a time and those eggs hatch in as little as 48 hours and start laying eggs of their own in about 10 days. Though it’s believed that you can’t contract malaria in the United States, mosquitos can carry West Nile virus and Dengue Fever. Be sure to have plenty of mosquito repellant in your emergency kit.
- Asthma and allergies can be severely aggravated by natural disasters. Pollen counts go up after heavy rains and mold can cause a battery of serious problems. Early stage symptoms of mold exposure look like a head cold or aggravated allergies, and these symptoms can turn to flu-like symptoms with more exposure.
- Any natural disaster that causes damage to sewer systems can result in gastrointestinal disease outbreaks that range in severity from cholera (very rare in the United States, though possible) to norovirus. Also, lack of sanitation can lead to the spread of hepatitis and similar diseases. Be sure you are up to date on water safety procedures if your area experiences earthquake or flooding, and be vigilant about sanitation and personal hygiene. For this reason, hand sanitizers are another essential element in your emergency kit.
- Beware of downed power lines, gas leaks and other damaged public utility infrastructure. These services can take days or even weeks to restore and damaged infrastructure can be deadly. When in doubt, err on the side of safety.
- Crowding in shelters or lines can lead to the spread of cold, flu, meningitis, chicken pox, measles and other communicable disease. Take the same precautions you would in a known respiratory outbreak.
- Debris can harbor the fungus that causes tetanus, wear protective clothing and move slowly in affected areas.
After a disaster there may be the urge to get things back to normal as quickly as possible. However, it pays to go slowly and take extra precautions when re-entering an area affected by natural disaster.