As residents clean up the mess Hurricane Matthew left behind, officials are urging everyone to protect themselves from the dangers of flood water.
Bacteria and human and animal waste may be present in flood water, said Sue Lynn Ledford, Wake County’s public health director. Anyone cleaning up after floods should wear protective clothing, wash their hands and shower frequently and be up-to-date on the tetanus vaccination.
“As people return to their homes, the water on surfaces most likely contains contaminated water,” Ledford said. “People need to stay away.”
Floods can stir up chemicals that are in the ground, Ledford said.
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Mold is also a concern, because it can cause respiratory issues. People with asthma or allergies might be particularly sensitive to mold, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Opening windows and using fans can help prevent mold growth, according to the CDC. Mold can often be removed with soap and water or a bleach solution.
In floods, there is a risk that animal waste will get into the water. As of Tuesday afternoon, there were no reports of hog lagoons in North Carolina that had breached, according to the N.C. Pork Council.
Heavy rains caused several sewer overflows in Wake County last weekend, including 23 in Raleigh. When overflows occur, untreated or partially treated sewage is released into the environment and can contaminate streams, lakes and other water sources.
Raleigh is still working to determine how much sewage spilled, said T.J. Lynch, assistant utilities director for the city.
“We don’t know how much water came in and came out, because the system was submerged underwater,” Lynch said. “When we do have the numbers, they will just be estimates.”
Raleigh’s drinking water is “absolutely” safe, said Kenneth Waldroup, also an assistant public utilities director for the city. Raleigh provides water for several Wake County towns.
“There was no time when it was unsafe to drink,” Waldroup said.
Floods leave behind pools of standing water, which are ideal breeding grounds for mosquitoes that can transmit diseases such as West Nile virus.
The Zika virus, which can be especially dangerous to pregnant women, is a mosquito-borne illness that has seen a rise in cases in South America, and some in the United States. No cases of the virus have originated in North Carolina.
“We will continue monitoring, and people should be aware that there may be other mosquito-borne illnesses contracted,” Ledford said.
Some parts of Eastern North Carolina, including Greenville, are preparing for more flooding. It could be a week before waters recede to normal levels.
The CDC recommends the following in the aftermath of flooding:
▪ Throw away items, like mattresses and carpeting, that cannot be washed and disinfected;
▪ Wash hands with soap and warm water;
▪ Clean hard surfaces, including counter tops and flooring;
▪ Wash all clothes contaminated with flood or sewage water;
▪ Use fans and dehumidifiers to help the drying process;
▪ If working in flood waters, wear protective gear, including goggles and rubber gloves.
Madison Iszler: 919-836-4952; @madisoniszler