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Floods May Impact Mold- and Sewage-Related Health Conditions

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Inside of a house with brown water flooding it

In the wake of recent severe flooding, Lakes Regional Healthcare (LRH) warns residents and visitors about health risks associated with exposure to mold and sewage-contaminated water.


Once floodwaters recede, the aftermath leaves homes, businesses, and public areas exposed to contaminated water and mold, posing a serious threat to public health.


Mold thrives in damp, humid environments, making post-flood conditions ideal for its growth. Mold can begin to grow within 24 to 48 hours of water exposure, and it can be found on walls, floors, ceilings, furniture, and other surfaces that have been in contact with floodwaters. The presence of mold is not just an issue of property damage; it has significant health risk.


Mold exposure can lead to a variety of health problems, particularly for individuals with respiratory issues, allergies, or weakened immune systems. Common symptoms include:


• Respiratory issues: coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath are common. Those with asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) may experience exacerbated symptoms.


• Allergic reactions: symptoms such as sneezing, runny or stuffy nose, itchy or watery eyes, and skin rashes are typical allergic responses to mold exposure.


• Infections: people with weakened immune systems, such as the elderly, infants, or those undergoing treatments like chemotherapy, are at higher risk of developing fungal infections from mold.


Floodwaters that mix with sewage can lead to contamination of homes, streets, and recreational areas. This contamination presents a range of health hazards due to the presence of bacteria, viruses, and parasites in sewage. Contact with or ingestion of sewage-contaminated water can lead to several illnesses, including:


• Gastrointestinal illnesses: nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach cramps can occur from ingesting contaminated water. Diseases like hepatitis A, norovirus, and giardiasis are common.


• Skin infections: direct contact with contaminated water can cause skin infections, rashes, and wound infections. Cuts and abrasions exposed to such water are particularly susceptible.


• Respiratory infections: inhalation of aerosols or droplets from contaminated water can lead to respiratory infections, such as bronchitis or pneumonia.


• Eye and ear infections: contact with contaminated water can cause conjunctivitis (pink eye) or ear infections, particularly in swimmers.


The following precautions can minimize health risks when exposed to mold or sewage-contaminated water:


• Avoid contact. Do not swim, wade, or play in water that may be contaminated with sewage. Avoid walking through floodwater if possible.


• Use protective gear. If contact with contaminated water is unavoidable, wear protective clothing such as waterproof boots, gloves, and masks.


• Clean and disinfect. Thoroughly clean and disinfect any items or surfaces that have encountered floodwater. It is important to follow guidelines to protect your health, such as those listed at Oftentimes professional mold remediation is needed.


• Dry out areas quickly. To prevent mold growth, dry out affected areas within 24 to 48 hours. Use fans, dehumidifiers, and open windows to improve ventilation.


• Consider getting a tetanus shot or booster. Natural disasters such as floods and tornadoes are not shown to increase the risk for tetanus disease. However, cleaning up after these events may increase risk of getting a wound. The risk of tetanus depends on the type and condition of the wound and the person’s immune status. Vaccination against tetanus is the best prevention. Adults should receive a booster dose of the vaccine every 10 years. Those with a wound may want to get a booster dose if the last tetanus vaccine dose was received 5+ years earlier.


• Seek medical attention. Those experiencing any symptoms associated with mold or sewage exposure should seek medical attention right away.


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