Q&A On Post-Hurricane Health Threats

Can you get an infection from dirty water?

(SHEILA KAPLAN and DONALD G. McNEIL Jr., THE NEW YORK TIMES)

A clergy member comforts a business owner whose store was destroyed in Port Aransas, Texas. PHOTO: Chabad Lubavitch, CC

The devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey in Houston has brought a host of health questions from residents of the area and concerned relatives and friends. Here are some answers to common questions showing up in Google searches and on Facebook.

RELATED: A Sea of Health Hazards in Texas Floodwaters

Can I get a bacterial infection from the dirty floodwaters?

Yes. Some Texas public health officials expect an increase in gastrointestinal problems from bacteria breeding in stagnant floodwaters that can contain Escherichia coli (E. coli), Shigella, and Vibrio vulnificus. The latter, which is present in the Gulf of Mexico, can cause terrible infections that can lead to amputations. It is harmful if swallowed or if it comes into contact with a cut.

In a report issued one month after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it had counted 24 cases of hurricane-related wounds infected with Vibrio vulnificus or its relative, Vibrio parahaemolyticus, of which six were fatal.

If you have walked through floodwaters, it is best to throw out the clothes and shoes you wore, said Winifred J. Hamilton, director of the environmental health service at Baylor College of Medicine.

What about waterborne intestinal diseases like hepatitis or cholera?

Dr. David E. Persse, Houston’s chief medical officer, does not anticipate any big outbreaks. “We didn’t get a lot of people with those after other storms,” he said, adding that “if you look at other floods, you don’t see a lot of hepatitis. In poor countries, you see cholera, but we don’t have it here.” READ FULL STORY AT NEW YORK TIMES

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