Texas Urges Health Precautions for Residents Affected by Hurricane Harvey

News Release
August 30, 2017

The Texas Department of State Health Services is issuing the following health precautions for people experiencing flooding and power outages in Southeast Texas and beginning recovery from Hurricane Harvey along the middle Texas coast.

People should follow all local drinking water safety notices and throw out food that may have spoiled or been contaminated. Because of the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning, gasoline-powered generators should not be used indoors.

Residents who evacuated affected areas are urged to wait for official word from state or local officials before returning home.

Health officials offer the following advice:

Drinking Water

  • People under boil water alerts and those with private wells that may have been contaminated by floodwater should use only bottled, boiled or treated water until water has been tested and found safe.
  • When boiling water for drinking, cooking and washing, bring it to a rolling boil for at least one minute and then let it cool. If boiling isn’t possible, water can be disinfected with regular, unscented household bleach using one-eighth teaspoon, about eight drops, per gallon of water. Add the bleach, stir well and let stand for 30 minutes.

Food

  • Do not eat food that has been in contact with flood water.
  • If electricity has been off, refrigerated food may have spoiled. Discard any food that has been at room temperature for more than two hours or that has an unusual odor or color.
  • Babies on formula should be given ready-to-feed formula or powdered formula prepared with bottled water.
  • Wash hands with soap and disinfected water before eating or handling food, after clean-up work and after handling flood water-contaminated items.

Environmental Hazards

  • No one should re-enter a building while flooded unless the main electrical switch has been turned off.
  • Snakes and other wild animals may seek shelter in homes, vehicles and trees. They are often injured in heavy rains and winds. Do not handle any wildlife. Seek immediate treatment if bitten or injured by an animal. Beware of displaced pets.
  • Return home in daylight for best visibility to be aware of any unsafe power sources. Do not use lanterns or torches until after the premises are safe from gas leaks.
  • Protect yourself from mosquito bites with an EPA-registered insect repellent. Standing water after floods can be a breeding place for mosquitoes. Drain all the standing water you can and dump out containers like toys, flower pots and saucers, old tires, cans and storm debris.
  • Always wear shoes in post-flood areas to reduce the chances of punctures or cuts from nails and other sharp objects.

Medical

  • People with puncture wounds or cuts exposed to flood water could be at risk of contracting tetanus if they haven’t had a tetanus vaccination within the last 10 years.
  • People up-to-date on vaccinations do not need any additional vaccines.

General

  • Never run gas-powered electrical generators or use gas or charcoal grills indoors. Carbon monoxide can build up and be fatal to people indoors.
  • Never mix bleach with products that contain ammonia to prevent the creation of toxic fumes.
  • Don’t let children play in or near flood water or storm drains.
  • Disinfect all furniture, woodwork, household surfaces and toys in homes that have flooded. Use a solution of one cup bleach to five gallons of water.
  • Wash hands frequently during cleanup to help avoid contaminating areas that have already been cleaned.
  • To prevent allergic reactions and other health problems caused by mold, replace flood-damaged wallboard starting at least 12 inches above the waterline.
  • Try to rest and conserve energy and avoid heat stress. People with heart conditions and other illnesses should avoid strenuous exertion.

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(News Media Contact: Chris Van Deusen, DSHS Director of Media Relations, 512-776-7119)

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Last updated August 30, 2017