While images of mass flooding from the US, India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sierra Leone and Mexico have filled the media over the past week, few realize the health hazards that flooding brings. Mexico Health Review has compiled a list of the most relevant:
- Drowning is the most immediate life-threat during floods; it accounts for 75 percent of deaths that occur.
- Hypothermia is a main concern for those that spend a long time in water, especially children.
- Injuries are a risk as nails, broken glasses and other sharp objects are difficult to see in murky waters.
- Displaced wildlife is a threat as the rising waters may bring snakes, alligators and fire ants, as was seen in Texas.
- Mosquitoes live in stagnant water and although floods often wash away their habitats, past disasters have shown that post floods they can come back in greater numbers, bringing an increase in vector-borne diseases such as zika, dengue, chikungunya and yellow fever, threats for certain parts of Mexico. The WHO has linked El Niño Southern Oscillation flooding to malaria in Peru and the resurgence of dengue fever in the Americas.
- Rising flood waters become contaminated by a variety of nasties, including human and animal fecal matter. Ingestion of flood water, substances contaminated by flood waters or close contact with contaminated items such as stuffed toys can cause gastroenteritis, vomiting, nausea and diarrhea. They can also drag up corpses, although the WHO states that infection risk is minimal.
- Waters can also contain communicable diseases such as hepatitis A, typhoid fever, cholera, MRSA and leptospirosis.
- There is a risk of electrocution as power lines may be submerged and emitting electricity into water.
- Damp that remains can cause mold to grow which can cause asthma, allergies and respiratory conditions.
- A psychological toll leaves a mark on disaster victims after the waters have receded, as homes and businesses are destroyed.