What are your health risks?

After a hurricane or other big storm has devastated your community, you need to take steps to make sure you and your family stay safe. Storms can cause damage that makes your home or environment unsafe. And trauma from the effects of a hurricane can affect your physical and mental health.

Stay away from flood waters

Pay attention to news and warnings about flooded areas and roads. Excess water makes driving or walking dangerous. If it’s deep enough, it can even sweep through vehicles.

If you must work or walk around flood water, wear a life jacket, especially if the water is deep or moving.

Do not touch or use wet electrical appliances

If an appliance or electrical appliance has been plugged in during the storm and appears wet, do not touch it or turn it on. It could electrocute you. Turn off the power at the circuit breaker if it’s still plugged in, and don’t use it until an electrician has checked it.

Also turn off your main power supply at the service panel or circuit breaker if water has come near your home’s electrical circuits or equipment. Have it checked by an experienced electrician before turning it back on.

Use flashlights instead of candles

If a hurricane or other storm knocks out your power, use battery-powered flashlights instead of candles if possible.

If you must use candles, watch them each time they are lit. Keep them away from anything that could ignite easily. If you have a fire extinguisher, keep it handy. And make sure everyone in your household knows how to use it.

Beware of contaminated water

Flood waters can contain elements and substances that are harmful to your health, such as:

  • Chemical products
  • human waste
  • animal waste
  • dead animals
  • Pests and insects
  • Germs that cause infectious diseases
  • Sharp objects like shards of glass or metal

Avoid contact with contaminated water. If you touch it, wash your hands with soap and clean water if available. Otherwise, use wipes and alcohol-based sanitizers.

Floods and hurricanes can also contaminate your drinking water. Pay attention to contaminated tap water advisories. If you suspect contamination, or if your water has an odd smell or taste, do not use it to:

Choose bottled, boiled or treated water for drinking, cooking and bathing.

Watch out for contaminated food

If storm water has come into contact with food in your home, throw it away. Food can be contaminated even if it smells, tastes or looks good.

If you’ve had a power outage, throw out any foods that smell bad, look moldy, or have an odd texture. if you have any doubts about the safety of a food, it is best to throw it away.

Stay away from carbon monoxide poisoning

If you have had a power outage, you can turn to alternative power sources for electricity or cooking. These can include fuel-burning appliances such as portable generators, charcoal barbecues and camp stoves.

But using these devices could lead to a buildup of carbon monoxide (CO) in your home. It is an odorless gas that can cause sudden illness or death. To avoid CO poisoning:

  • Never keep coal or oil-fired equipment such as generators or stoves inside your home. Keep them outside and at least 20 feet from any window, door or vent. Use an extension cord to keep a safe distance.
  • Never use a camp stove or charcoal grill inside a home, RV, or tent.
  • Use a battery operated CO detector whenever you use a generator. Make sure its batteries are fresh.
  • If your CO detectors begin to beep, open all windows and leave your house.

If you notice symptoms of CO poisoning, call 911 or go to the nearest hospital immediately. Symptoms include headache, dizziness, nausea, chest pain, and confusion.

Stay away from damaged buildings and power lines

If a building appears damaged, do not enter it until local authorities have checked it for safety. If you hear strange noises or notice shifting or movement, the building may be on the verge of collapse. Get out right away and move to a safe distance to avoid debris.

Watch out for fallen or overhanging power lines. If you notice any, report them to your local power company.

Protect yourself from insects and other pests

Rainwater pooling attracts insects and other pests like mosquitoes. Use insect repellents or sprays containing DEET or picaridin to avoid bites and possible infections. Wear clothes that cover your arms, legs and feet to protect yourself.

If you see a dead animal, call local authorities or the public health department to report it.

Take steps to protect your health

You are at greater risk of injury during and after a hurricane. Use first aid to treat your injuries as soon as possible. This helps heal them and prevent infection.

If you are ordered to evacuate the area, take all your medications with you. If your medicine needs refrigeration and you lose energy for a day or more, throw it out unless the label says so. If your life depends on refrigerated medicine and you can’t keep it cold, use it at room temperature. Get a new supply as soon as possible.

Take care of your emotional health

Natural disasters such as hurricanes and severe storms can stir up a range of emotions, including anxiety, stress and fear.

Physical symptoms can result, including:

Here are some tips for improving your emotional health after a storm:

  • Stick to your daily routine as much as possible.
  • Get rest, eat right, and exercise.
  • Connect with family, friends, and community members who have been through something similar.
  • If your symptoms last more than a few weeks and interfere with your daily life, contact a mental health professional for help.

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