“Rain rain go away”, is an old refrain that many people are repeating this year as we move closer to the 4th of July holiday with the realization that “summer vacation” is being washed away. Luckily, Oak Lawn has not been subjected to terrible flooding problems but as the rain continues, it may be wise to plan ahead. Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) Director Nirav D. Shah, M.D., J.D., is urging residents in and around flooded areas to take precautions to help prevent disease and stay safe.
“Flood waters can contaminate food, water, house appliances, and just about anything it touches,” said Director Shah. “To avoid illness it is important for people whose homes have been affected by flooding to make sure their water is safe to drink, to know if food needs to be thrown out, and to clean all items touched by flood waters properly.”
Flood water and sewer overflows can contain bacteria, fecal material, viruses and other organisms that may cause disease. The following information can help protect communities from illness and injury:
- Avoid skin contact with flood and sewer water, especially cuts and sores. Keep them clean and covered.
- Do not allow children to play in areas contaminated by flood water and sewage backup.
- Do not eat or drink anything exposed to flood and sewer water.
- Keep contaminated objects, water and hands away from mucous membranes (mouth, eyes and nose).
- Wash hands frequently, especially after bathroom use, before eating and immediately following contact with flood and sewer water or contaminated objects or surfaces.
Food and Water Safety
Until you are sure the water supply is safe, use only bottled or disinfected water for drinking, cooking, dish washing, tooth brushing, and bathing. Some communities may be under boil orders because the water quality in the system is potentially contaminated by flooding or equipment damage. People with private water wells who think their well may be impacted by flooding should contact their local health department for instructions on disinfecting and testing their wells. Instructions for disinfecting a well can also be found in the Department’s “After the Flood” pamphlet.
If the power goes out, the refrigerator will keep food cold for about four hours if it is unopened. A fully stocked freezer will keep food frozen two days if the door remains closed. A half-full freezer can keep foods frozen about one day. If you plan to eat refrigerated or frozen meat, poultry, fish or eggs while it is still at safe temperatures, it’s important that each item is thoroughly cooked to its proper temperature to assure that any foodborne bacteria that may be present are destroyed. However, if at any point the food was above 40 F for two hours or more – discard it. Intact cans without dents can be cleaned with a bleach solution before use.
Removal and cleanup of sewer or flood water is essential. It is important to take the following precautions to prevent injury:
- Turn off main power switches, if necessary. Air out and wipe dry all appliances and electrical outlets exposed to water, before use.
- If you have fuel oil or gas systems, be sure tanks are secure and all lines are free from breaks.
- Wear rubber boots, gloves and a mask during removal and cleanup.
- Open windows if possible to ventilate and dry the area. Fans can be used to help with drying.
- Keep children from playing in water.
- Before volunteering or working in an area affected by flooding, make sure tetanus boosters are current – a tetanus booster is recommended every 10 years. If cut or scratched during clean-up efforts, a health care professional can determine if a tetanus booster is needed at that time. Exposure to flood water alone is not a reason to give tetanus-containing vaccine or any other vaccine.
The following cleaning guidelines may help prevent the transmission of disease and reduce property loss:
- Discard any contaminated objects that cannot be thoroughly washed or laundered.
- Thoroughly dry and clean carpet, rugs, wood, paneling, wallboard, mattresses, and anything else touched by flood water to prevent mold.
- Wash contaminated surfaces and objects with warm, soapy water and then disinfect them with a bleach and water solution made of no more than one cup of 5.25 percent chlorine bleach, per one gallon of water. For objects that would be damaged by bleach, use a home or laundry disinfectant.
- Make sure to read and follow label instructions. Do not use ammonia. Ammonia vapors mixed with bleach vapors create a toxic gas that could be deadly.