Infectious Hazards of Hurricanes

LightStrike Robots have been used in many outbreak and flooding situations to halt the spread of the microbes that can flourish after floods.

If you are in Hurricane Florence’s path, we hope that you’ve taken shelter and are prepared for emergency situations. After flooding, clean-up is an obvious next step, and a critical part of that cleaning is final disinfection. LightStrike Robots have been used in many outbreak and flooding situations to halt the spread of the microbes that can flourish after floods.

Fike High School Red Cross-operated shelter. Wilson, NC. Photo by Daniel Cima, American Red Cross

It’s important to be aware of the types of infections most commonly associated with hurricanes, especially for healthcare workers and families taking shelter in community settings.

Infections associated with immersion in water

Many microbes are abundant in standing water, especially if flooding has caused damage to sewage systems.

 

  • Aeromonas, Vibrio, Tetanus

 

Infections from Aeromonas or Vibrio can appear as gastrointestinal illness, but both can also cause skin infections, whereas Tetanus infection’s hallmark symptoms are stiffness of the neck, jaw, and facial muscles. All of these are treatable, but need to be attended to quickly.

 

  • Skin and Soft Tissue Infections

 

Staphylococcus and Streptococcus infections are most common, and if you already have a wound, contamination from flood waters can lead to an infection.

Infections associated with shelters

Shelter environments can involve interaction with many different people, in settings that are often not designed for privacy or infection control. Alcohol-based hand gels can minimize spread of some germs but soap-and-water handwashing is the most reliable way to rid your hands of microbes.

 

  • Respiratory illnesses, Pertussis, and Tuberculosis

 

Avoid folks who are coughing and keep young children (who may be unvaccinated against Pertussis) away from large groups of people.

 

  • Ectoparasites – Lice, Ticks, Fleas

 

Gross but true, and fortunately easier to treat than most of the germs in this list. But checking yourself for these little bugs is wise when you’re stuck in a group setting.

 

  • Gastrointestinal, Fecal-oral route infections: Norovirus, Hep A, Salmonella

 

Norovirus spreads quickly and easily in group settings, and controlling its spread can be difficult. Remember that alcohol-based hand sanitizers and bleach disinfectants have been proven ineffective for it, so it’s important to wash hands with soap and water, and disinfect with UV or with hydrogen peroxide-based cleaners.

Credit Chris Lacher