When people think about hurricanes, they often get frantic about the damage it could cause to their homes, how long they might be without power, and the immediate danger they are in. What often goes forgotten are the health risks that can linger long after the hurricane passes: flooding and disease, injuries from flooding or high winds, and even mental health issues from experiencing something so stressful. If you are a physician working in areas of Florida or Texas that were recently impacted by a hurricane, it’s important to keep in mind that some of your patients may be at higher risk for certain health issues as a result of the storm. Here are some potential lasting issues that can arise from flooding after a hurricane.
Flooding and disease
Flooding and disease are major health concerns after a hurricane, on multiple fronts. Not only can dirty, stagnant water lead to gastrointestinal infections and potential staph infections, like MRSA, but it can also impact safe drinking water and create mold. Keep these things in mind when you’re seeing patients after a hurricane. Doctors learned a lot about health risks after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, so certain tests and booster shots are preemptively being recommended this time around. Aside from flooding and disease, the air quality can deteriorate as a result of shutdown chemical plants releasing toxic air pollution. This can especially impact people who already suffer from asthma. Additionally, people who are staying in shelters – or other close quarters – are at higher risk of health issues and passing them back and forth to each other.
Bugs, bugs, bugs!
A disease doesn’t have to come from the dirty water – it can also come from all of the bugs that the standing water attracts! Most common are mosquitoes. This puts people at risk of many different diseases that mosquitoes carry, including the Zika Virus, which has been an ongoing health concern in the southern United States. Although initially after a hurricane there are fewer mosquitoes because their habitats are wiped out by the storm, as time passes they will again find a place to nest and repopulate the area.
Mental health concerns
Another health risk that can arise after flooding is mental health issues. Some studies show that mental health is one of the greatest health risks that can occur as a result of a hurricane, maybe even more so than flooding and disease. Hurricanes can trigger stress, anxiety, and depression. This can make the current mental illness worse, or cause people to develop mental health issues. Especially for people whose lives are drastically changed by the natural disaster – this type of tragedy can result in post-traumatic stress disorder.
With all of this in mind, do what you can to remind patients of precautions that they can take post-hurricane. For example, the Florida Department of Health has a list of health risks after the hurricane and safety tips to prevent them. Some things that are critical to mention to your patients include:
- Don’t eat spoiled food. The old saying, “when in doubt, throw it out,” is especially relevant after a hurricane and power outages.
- If they have any exposed cuts or sores, keep them as clean as possible to avoid exposure to flooding and disease. Also, washing hands with soap and water are even more important during this time.
- Don’t let children play with toys that have been exposed to flood waters
- Cover your skin with shoes, socks, and long pants and use bug repellent to prevent mosquito bites