How to weather health hazards after a storm

Doctor explains how to stay safe in aftermath of a large storm, hurricane


After a storm, it's important to be aware of potential health risks.

According to Dr. Baruch Fertel, an emergency physician at Cleveland Clinic, in addition to being a drowning hazard, standing water may carry bacteria that can cause illness, so something as simple as hand hygiene can go a long way.

"We would encourage people to wash their hands with soap and water and not put their hands in their mouth," said Fertel. "Children, who may not have that inhibition after touching dirty water containing some of these bacteria, can go and put that in their mouth thereby increasing their risk for diarrheal illness."

Fertel said bacterial illnesses that cause diarrhea and dehydration, like E. coli and shigella, may be more serious in children, the elderly or in people with certain chronic conditions.

In addition, dirty standing water can cause infection if an open wound is submerged. 

To prevent infection, Fertel recommends keeping wounds clean, covered and away from dirty water when possible.

Wearing long clothing can protect skin from irritants that may cause rashes or other skin problems.

Storms often knock power out, too, leading to additional health concerns.

When air conditioning is out, people can become dehydrated much faster, therefore, Fertel said it's important to drink plenty of clean water, seek shade and rest -- especially during storm clean-up. 

Food safety also becomes an issue without power. Perishable foods that are not kept cold could carry bacteria that cause foodborne illness, like salmonella or E. coli. 

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), items in the fridge are good for about four hours, while items in a full freezer will keep for about 48 hours if the doors are kept closed. 

PRINT/SHARE: Food and water safety during power outages and floods

Fertel said emergency situations are stressful and could trigger mental health conditions as well. 

"It can exacerbate some underlying mental health issues depression, anxiety, schizophrenia -- a number of issues could present and its important that we recognize some of the challenges that a disaster poses for patients with mental health, as those are emergencies and serious illnesses, too," he said.

Fertel encourages people to seek a medical professional or counselor to help them cope with mental health challenges, as they are often on hand at evacuation centers.