Some areas might finally be drying out, but the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey still can pose a threat.
The main worry is floodwater, which comes in contact with sewage and animal feces and so is filled with diseases such as hepatitis and E. coli.
“We treat it as if it was like raw sewage,” said Dr. Christopher Ziebell, emergency department medical director at Dell Seton Medical Center at the University of Texas. Right now, the warmth of the floodwater is a great environment for the bacteria to multiply, he said.
Be especially cautious if your immune systen is compromised or you have an open wound.
Floodwater is also filled with hazardous chemicals from homes, industrial sites and underground tanks.
Here are some things to watch out for:
Drinking water safety
Worry about your clean water being in contact with floodwater. If you have a well that has been touched by floodwater, boil your water or use bottled water for the time being. If the outsides of your bottles of water were touched by floodwater, they need to be cleaned with a bleach solution before you drink from them.
Be aware of any boil water notices, especially in areas to the east of Austin that have been more affected.
If you do need to boil your water, it needs to be at a rolling boil for at least one minute before it is considered safe to drink. If you cannot boil it, put one-eighth of a teaspoon (about eight drops) of bleach into a gallon of water. Stir it and let it sit for 30 minutes.
If your food or medications touched floodwater, throw them out. It’s not safe. Don’t try to make it safe.
If you lost power, your refrigerator can keep food cold for four hours if it is closed. If food reaches room temperature, it’s safe for two hours only.
Your freezer, with the door shut, can keep things cold for 24 to 48 hours. If the thermometer in the freezer gets to above 40 degrees, it’s probably no longer safe. If the food is partially frozen, it can be refrozen.
If there is a doubt, get rid of the food.
Avoid standing water if at all possible. You can’t see the hazards that might be lurking, such as sharp objects. Again, it’s filled with nasty bacteria and chemicals.
If you do come in contact with it, clean yourself off, especially before handling food or food products.
If you have an open wound, avoid going into standing water because of the bacteria involved.
If you do get cut, clean the wound well with soap as soon as possible.
If you haven’t had a tetanus shot in the past 10 years, get one, especially if you get cut by debris.
Everything that floodwater touched should be cleaned with a bleach/clean water solution.
If you’ve lost power and are using a generator, don’t use it inside your home. It can cause carbon monoxide poisoning.
All this water is a feeding ground for mosquitoes. Fortunately, we’re at the end of the West Nile season, and we haven’t seen a lot of Zika so far, said Dr. Albert Gros, chief medical officer of St. David’s South Austin Medical Center. But do take these precautions:
The mosquitoes that cause Zika virus like small amounts of water. Dump out any flower pots, gutters or other containers that might be holding water.
The mosquitoes that cause West Nile like bigger areas of water, but they like standing water. If floodwater is moving, they probably won’t want to lay eggs there or their eggs won’t survive. Worry about areas that have stagnant water and alert your city if you see places that aren’t draining.
Use mosquito repellent in the coming weeks to keep yourself safe.
If you are going back into your house to clean it up, do these things:
Make sure the power is off if you still have standing water. Have an electrician shut it off for you.
Don’t be in a hurry. Be overly cautious about the dangers around you, and go slowly.
Dress for safety. Wear eye protection, closed-toed shoes, a face mask and gloves. Use a respirator if you are going to be in an enclosed space where a lot of floodwater has been.
Go during the day. You’re more likely to be able to see what’s around you.
Sources: Phil Huang, medical director of Austin Public Health; Chris Van Deusen, spokesman for the Texas Department of State Health Services; Dr. Albert Gros, chief medical officer of St. David’s South Austin Medical Center; Dr. Christopher Ziebell, emergency department medical director at Dell Seton Medical Center at the University of Texas.
Austin hospitals seeing more evacuees
Local hospitals have seen a few patient transfers from areas including Victoria, El Campo, Bay City and Corpus Christi. The Seton Healthcare Family system had seen 27 patients as of Monday afternoon. St. David’s Health Care had received six patients at its hospitals.
Neither health care system had yet seen any direct transfers from Houston.
“We certainly stand ready to,” said Dr. Christopher Ziebell, emergency department medical director at Dell Seton Medical Center at the University of Texas. Seton officials had thought some might arrive Sunday night, but Ziebell said he was told that hospitals in Houston were sheltering in place because it wasn’t safe to move patients. He thinks it will only be a matter of time.
“We’ll see some surge of people as southern Texas comes back to life,” he said. “We’re going to continue to have some more evacuees.”
Both Seton and St. David’s HealthCare have seen more than 100 evacuees come through emergency rooms because they left without medical equipment and medications. While evacuees are welcome to come to the emergency room for this, it will result in a large bill, Ziebell said. He recommended going to an urgent care clinic instead or to one of the shelters, where staffers can help get the equipment needed.
Evacuees who use Walgreens or CVS at home can go to one here to get a list of their medications and to get medications refilled.
Ziebell suggested that people keep a list of their medications with them that includes name, dosing times and amounts as well as the prescribing doctor’s information. Some patients even take a photo of their pill bottles, and that’s really helpful to doctors when patients come to a clinic or emergency room.