What health risks arise from flooding?

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Written By Kampretz Bianca

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In flooded areas, the following still applies: do not go underground, drive your car through flooded streets or enter river banks. Especially if the water arrives suddenly, people could be swept away, warns Nuremberg environmental doctor Andrea Pechmann. “Objects are also carried. They can cause serious injury because you can be killed by them in the water.” But, in addition to the serious danger to life and physical integrity, floods also pose other health risks.

Take the recommendation to boil drinking water seriously

Depending on the recommendations of health authorities, drinking water should be boiled. This is currently the case, e.g. Donau-Ries District (external link) The case. If groundwater wells are inundated by floodwaters, pathogens can enter drinking water.

Jörg Drewes, Professor of Urban Water Management at the Technical University of Munich, explains that a boil recommendation does not necessarily mean that drinking water is “completely contaminated”. Instead, the “concern is that pathogens that are normally trapped and killed in the soil when water is filtered underground will end up in drinking water,” the expert said. However, the drinking water supply is currently safe.

Risk increases after floodwaters recede

Due to this concern, authorities are taking more frequent and extensive water samples in flood-affected areas as a precautionary measure. Especially when the waters recede, hygiene problems can arise, says Drewes. A variety of pollutants could then be distributed, for example, through leaking oil tanks, road sewage or fecal residue from wastewater treatment plants or from flooded pastures and stables.

If, for example, residents have extensive contact with contaminated water during cleaning work, this could be the case according to the Robert Koch Institute lead to gastrointestinal diseases or even hepatitis A. Strict hand hygiene and consumption of only hygienically safe foods protect against these “faecal-oral transmitted diseases”. The competent authorities will provide information on site.

RKI: Infection risk “generally overestimated”

In general, however, the risk of infectious diseases caused by flooding is “usually overestimated by the public”, according to the RKI. This is also confirmed by Pechmann, who is also director of the institute and polyclinic for occupational, social and environmental medicine at FAU Erlangen-Nuremberg. In our latitudes, the risk of infection is low. The environmental doctor points out more indirect health risks. This would happen, for example, if doctors’ surgeries or pharmacies in flooded areas were closed and people could therefore delay or not attend treatment.

Almost a third have psychological problems after floods

Not only are physical risks possible, but also psychological problems. “We know that when natural events are so severe, almost a third of those affected can develop psychological complaints or psychological symptoms later. It is therefore important to seek medical help at an early stage”, advises Pechmann. In Bavaria, for example, “crisis services” are available, offering support and information as a publicly funded counseling and assistance service in psychological emergencies. They are Reachable by phone 0800/6553000 (external link).

Mold infestation in flooded buildings

O The Federal Environment Agency also recommends this (external link)To protect your health, pay attention to mold infestation when cleaning. Mold can cause respiratory irritation and allergic reactions. Even after the water drains, moisture remains for a long time on soggy walls, ceilings and floors.

As a result of moisture, mold and bacteria can form on most materials. Depending on the temperature, this could happen within a few days or a few weeks. The office advises Mold infestation for respiratory masks, protective gloves and dust goggles.

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