The most immediate health risk is from drowning, especially for
people trapped in vehicles, said Renee Funk, associate director for
emergency management of the Centers for Disease Control and
Carbon monoxide poisoning from portable generators is another
threat. "Unfortunately, we expect there will be people who die from
that and people will be poisoned from it," Funk said in a telephone
But simply wading in floodwaters could cause skin rashes because so
much of the water is contaminated with toxic chemicals that get
washed out of people's garages and tool sheds.
"The No. 1 thing we're concerned with in a flood is chemicals," said
Funk, who advises people to shower and wash their hands immediately
after contact with floodwaters.
Mosquito-borne disease is less of an immediate threat because the
floodwaters will wash out most mosquito breeding sites for
disease-causing mosquitoes such Aedes aegypti, which spread Zika,
chikungunya, dengue and yellow fever, she said.
Floods typically cause a rise in nuisance mosquitoes, such as the
Culex variety, and these, too, can carry disease.
A year after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, regions in Louisiana and
Mississippi affected by the flood reported a doubling of cases of
neuroinvasive West Nile virus - cases in which the virus caused
severe inflammation in the brain or spinal cord, said Dr. Peter
Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor
College of Medicine.
"A year from now, we'll have to look very closely at West Nile and
other mosquito-borne viruses," said Hotez, who is riding out the
storm from his Houston home while his lab at Baylor is closed.
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In the immediate aftermath of Harvey, bacterial diseases are a
concern, although cholera, a scourge in the wake of many natural
disasters in developing countries, is likely not a worry in Houston,
"Bacterial infections are really important, such as salmonella and
E. coli infections," Hotez said.
Shelters could also pose a public health risk, said Dr. Amesh Adalja,
a senior associate at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.
"If you are in a small enclosed area in an alternate care facility
and you have really bad diarrhea, it's going to be hard in these
situations to practice proper infection control."
(Reporting by Julie Steenhuysen; Editing by Howard Goller)
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