June 19th, 2018

To Your Health: Myriad problems can result in flooding aftermath

By Gillian Slade on September 11, 2017.

The path of destruction after a hurricane is bad enough but there are also many health issues that people in the area will be dealing with in the coming days.

Flooding and standing water is a breeding ground for mosquitoes. That can be bothersome and more. If the mosquitoes carry the West Nile virus it can at its worst be deadly.

Depending on the local infrastructure there is the potential for a contaminated water supply and that can result in E. coli, norovirus, diarrhea, and dehydration. It can be extremely serious without appropriate medical attention.

Perhaps the more silent illness — one with long-term consequences — is mental health.

People are dealing with multiple hurdles in the clean-up process, creating mental anguish, anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress. This affects not only adults but children too. All of that can result in sleepless nights compounding the issue. The process of restoration of your home and community can feel insurmountable and hopeless.

In the last seven years we have endured several floods in this region. I still meet many of the people who were affected when I attend social functions or in public places. The fact that I got to know them in the aftermath of those events, as I interviewed them for stories and heard personally how they were affected, there is a connection. Many will remind me of what they went through and how the memories come flooding back from time to time. It was a relentless battle to recover from the devastation that took its toll.

According to research, those who sustain physical injuries after a disaster, such as a hurricane, is very high. Efforts to remove debris, rescue someone and retrieve belongings can result in cuts and open wounds. You add to that contaminated pools of water and you have the ingredients for infections. Studies have also shown an increase in skin infections.

You add all of the above on top of people dealing with chronic health issues and you compound the problem. Sometimes it is a lapse in being able to access prescriptions or if the infrastructure has been affected it may mean no medical records are available.

According to media reports the mortality rate in New Orleans climbed 47 per cent in the 10 months after Hurricane Katrina.

Many studies document a surge in mental health diagnoses in populations that experience floods. These, too, can last years. Six months after floods in Mexico in 1999, a quarter of the affected population still had symptoms of trauma or depression. Increased rates of both could still be detected two years later, particularly among those who had experienced the worst aspects of flooding: Flash floods, mudslides, the witnessing of injury or death, and displacement.

You may be thinking this does not really apply to you because you are not living in a hurricane prone area of the world. We all love vacation destinations in the sun though. It has also become evident recently that many people, vacationing where a hurricane was expected, simply could not get a flight out of the area before the weather turned bad.

Here’s to health and safety in the aftermath of a storm and/or flood, and here’s To Your Health.

To Your Health is a weekly column by Gillian Slade, health reporter for the News, bringing you news on health issues and research from around the world. You can reach her by email on call 403-528-8635.

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