Be Mindful of the Health Risks Lurking in Flood Waters

Posted by Alvin Barrow, M.D. on Sep 6, 2017, 8:09:00 AM

After the catastrophic flooding from Hurricane Harvey, please be mindful of the health risks lurking in high water areas that can leave people vulnerable to injury and sickness.

Flood Water Is a Breeding Ground for Bacteria

There might be more than you bargained for in that water left behind by Harvey – namely sewage and all of the bacteria associated with it. As flood waters fill bayous, lakes and streets, they also fill sewer systems and often mix with whatever’s in them. This means flood waters are full of bacteria that can cause all types of illnesses, from hepatitis A and cholera to malaria and dengue fever. Granted, not all of these are common, but it’s not worth taking the risk. You also leave yourself vulnerable to ailments like conjunctivitis, dermatitis and ear, nose and throat infections.

If you have to walk in flood water, make sure that you’re protecting yourself as much as possible. Wear rubber boots and gloves or waders if you have them. Bandage all existing wounds with waterproof bandages and make sure you have antibiotic ointment for use after you’re out of the water.

If you’ve walked through flood water, anything you were wearing will need to be washed separately from uncontaminated items with hot water and detergent or bleach. And remember – the best way to stay safe from the bacteria in flood water is to stay out of the water.

flood_water_feet-492755012.jpgAround Your Home

While the cosmetic damage that high water does to your home and your security is often what comes to mind when we think about flooding, there are many things that can potentially be dangerous. If you’ve had recent flooding, especially if it’s come into your house, here are some things to remember:

  •  Flooding can affect drinking water: If flood water contaminated your community’s drinking water system, it may be necessary to drink bottled water or to boil your water before it is used for cleaning. Typically if this is the case, your local office of emergency management will issue a warning and instructions.
  •  Try not to use candles when you return: If you’ve been displaced and are finally able to get back to your home to check the damage, the best time to do this is during the day when you can see better. You will likely not have electricity. Also, if you need to use additional light sources, use battery-powered flashlights and lanterns in case of gas leaks. If you smell gas or suspect a leak, contact your local gas company immediately.
  •  Power lines may be down: Look around your neighborhood for downed power lines and avoid them. Report their locations to your local power company or city management. 

Creepy Crawlies 

flood_water_snake-528741858.jpgThink about all the wildlife sharing your neighborhood. Even if you live in a suburban area, chances are you’ve got retention ponds or bayous nearby that serve as an ecosystem for thousands of animals and insects you’d want to avoid. I have bad news – flood waters displace animals just like people, and that can bring some of these creepy crawlies a little too close for comfort. If you have to be around flood water, keep an eye out for snakes, turtles and insects that bite. It isn’t uncommon to see “rafts” of fire ants floating across the top of flood water – you want to make sure to avoid these. 

Although it’s best to avoid flood water at all costs, realistically it’s not always an option. Keeping these tips in mind may help you get through an already stressful situation a little easier.


Dr. Alvin Barrow is a board-certified Family Medicine physician at Kelsey-Seybold’s Meyerland Plaza Clinic. The satisfaction he gets from helping patients is why he chose to be a doctor.



Topics: flood water, flood related illnesses, flooding health risks

Finding a doctor has never been easier!

Subscribe to Email Updates

Recent Posts

Posts by Topic

see all