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Community Health

Safety Precautions in Flood-Affected Areas

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In light of the extreme weather that is again affecting communities across the United States, we at THE NEXTDDS thought it important to relay several standard safety precautions that you and your family can use during a flood emergency to help protect your assets and your overall health.  Remember, flood waters and standing waters pose multiple health risks that include infectious diseases (eg, diarrheal diseases, wound infection), chemical hazards (eg, sewage, dangerous household chemicals), and potentially serious injuries (eg, drowning, animal/insect bites, electrical hazards, other wounds)1,2.

Follow these guidelines to ensure maximum safety when cleaning the inside and outside of your home or apartment after a flood:

First and foremost, when you return to your home after a hurricane, flood, or similar weather disaster, be aware that any food or water in the house may be contaminated with sewage3. You can best protect your family if you keep your children and pets away from affected areas until all cleanup measures have been completed. When cleaning, be sure to wear protective rubber gloves, boots, and goggles—just as you would in the dental clinic.  It is important too to immediately discard items that cannot be washed or disinfected, including mattresses, carpets, rugs, furniture, stuffed animals, toys, pillows, books, wall coverings/paintings, and most paper products.  You may also need to remove drywall insulation if it has been contaminated.  Local emergency officials can often assist in the assessment process if you have concerns when re-entering your home after flooding.

Make sure to thoroughly clean and disinfect all hard surfaces, including floors, concrete, molding, wood and metal furniture, counters, appliances, and all plumbing features--including sinks and toilets. For further instruction on this sterilization process, feel free to click on the forthcoming THE NEXTDDS podcast on the subject.  Be sure to use hot soapy water, bleach (as appropriate), and laundry or dish detergent for these tasks.  Use fans, air conditioners, or humidifiers to facilitate the drying process that is critical to prevent mold and subsequent health hazards.

Just as in the dental clinic, it is important to wash your hands with an antibacterial disinfecting soap once you complete the drying process.  It is best to use water that has been boiled for at least one minute to wash your hands, as other water is likely contaminated4, but be sure to allow the water sufficient time to cool down before attempting to wash your hands with it.  You can also disinfect water using 0.75 mL of bleach per gallon of water, though you should allow the mixture stand for 30 minutes prior to use.  If the mixture is cloudy, use a solution of 1.5 mL of bleach per one gallon of water.

All cloths and/or clothing used during the cleanup should be thoroughly washed or dispose of entirely.  Such clothes should be washed separately, with separate water and detergent than you use for non-contaminated clothes.  If your own water source has not been serviced and or validated by the proper utility representatives, a laundromat may be useful for this purpose.

Most importantly, seek immediate medical attention if you become ill or injured while cleaning.   

We hope that all those affected by recent floods are safe, and we hope this guide is useful to those of you who need to salvage what you can of your property, homes, or possessions.



  1. http://www.osap.org/?page=Issues_EmergPrep
  2. http://www.redcross.org/www-files/Documents/pdf/Preparedness/checklists/Flood.pdf
  3. http://www.fda.gov/Food/ResourcesForYou/Consumers/ucm07881.htm
  4. http://www.osap.org/?page=Issues_boilwater

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