As hundreds of residents are being allowed back into their ruined homes, all Iowans who are helping with the flood clean-up effort are warned to take health precautions in the disaster areas.
Dr. Daniel Diekema, an epidemiologist at University Hospitals in Iowa City, says that flood water and anything it touched may be teaming with dangerous bacteria.
Diekema says the main risks to people are those associated with injuries, especially cuts and puncture wounds, which they need to carefully watch for any signs of infection. While people are anxious to see the damage and to determine what can be salvaged, Diekema stresses they use their heads and go in properly armed.
"Before you get out there or get back into your home, I think it is prudent to make sure that you’re up to date on your tetanus vaccine, so if you haven’t had a booster within the past ten years, it’d be a good opportunity to do that," Diekema says. He says prevention the best way to avoid an illness, so he suggests a few safety precautions for anyone working in areas that were — or still are — flooded.
"Use heavy rubber work gloves to remove wet and hazardous materials," he says, in addition to long pants and rubber boots. If you do get cut, he says to clean it out immediately with soap and water. Some health care professionals recommend updating your tetanus and hepatitis-A boosters every five years.
A state health official says another, perhaps larger, health threat is from carbon monoxide poisoning from the use of gas-powered generators indoors, as well as stress and heat exhaustion.
(Iowa National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Oscar Sanchez)