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Harvey Health and Safety Recovery Tips


When Hurricane Harvey made landfall, no one could have predicted the amount of rainfall and devastation it would bring to the Houston area. With 27 trillion gallons of rain that fell from Harvey, the flood waters that followed impacted nearly everyone in our region. Whether you suffered flooding in your home, had a family member or friend who sustained flood damage, or volunteered to help during and after the storm, it’s now time for our community to begin the rebuilding process.

Cleanup work of any kind can be hazardous, but clean up after flooding presents a host of conditions we may not consider. Below are some tips for a safe and healthy clean up after a flooding disaster.

If you need to seek medical care, UTMB Health has convenient clinic locations throughout Southeast Texas, where we are ready to welcome you and care for the health needs of you and your family. 


Helpful Harvey Info

Appointment question? Call the UTMB Access Center at (409) 772-2222.

Bone, Joint and Muscle Injuries

When recovery efforts are underway after a disaster, people can get injured by improperly lifting heavy loads or removing debris. People want to get their homes and lives restored as quickly as possible, but often times they don’t exercise caution and try to tackle heavy lifting jobs without assistance or proper lifting techniques leading to muscle strains or pulls.

In addition to moving heavy objects, recovery often involves the use of striking tools such as hammers and crowbars. The repetitive use of these tools run the risk of injuring fingers, toes and other body parts. Care should be taken when using these tools in confined or crowded work areas to avoid injury to self and others.

Follow these tips to avoid injuries:

  • Use teams of two or more to move bulky objects
  • Avoid lifting any materials that weigh more than 50 lbs. per person
  • Use proper lifting techniques or lifting devices when possible
  • Wear work gloves, closed or steel toe shoes, and long pants

If an injury occurs, seek urgent or emergency care at one of our convenient locations or schedule an appointment with one of our orthopedic specialists.

Clean-Up

Mold

Mold can start growing in a home the day after a flood. Mold spores are everywhere and quickly become an issue in warm climates. Mold can affect the eyes and throat and increase the chance of allergy symptoms, headaches, bronchitis, asthma attacks and other respiratory problems. People with asthma or other pulmonary illnesses, compromised immune systems, infants and the elderly are more likely to develop mold-related illnesses.

Mold clean up

Homes will need to be thoroughly dried out, which may take several days or weeks. Here are some suggestions to control mold after a flood:

  • Dry or discard any items or materials that absorb water. If the material cannot be effectively dried or cleaned, place them in a sealed plastic bag to prevent the spread of mold spores.
  • Non-porous materials, such as floor, countertops, plastic, or glass, should be washed with soap and water first and then with a solution of one cup of bleach to one gallon of water and then allowed to dry completely.
  • Consider using an N-95 rated dust mask if heavy concentrations of mold are already growing.
  • People allergic to mold, who have asthma or other respiratory conditions should not do mold cleanup.

Our allergy specialists can diagnose and treat mold conditions, schedule an appointment here.

The Differences between Mold and Mildew

From the mold-advisor.com website, we know that mold and mildew are both types of fungi and are similar in many ways. The major differences between mold and mildew are noted below:

 MoldMildew
Appearance

Mold is usually fuzzy in appearance. It can be many different colors, including blue, green, yellow, brown, gray, black, or white.

Mildew usually grows in a flat pattern and may appear either powdery or downy. Powdery mildew usually starts out white and may later turn yellow, brown, or black. Downy mildew usually starts out yellow and later turns brown.

Problems it Causes

Structural damage to homes can occur over time. Mold can also cause numerous health problems, including respiratory problems, allergic reactions, migraines, inflammation and pain in the joints, mental status changes, and extreme fatigue.

Mildew can cause damage to plants and crops. It can also cause health problems, including respiratory problems an headaches.

Repair and Gutting

When repairing or gutting flooded homes, power tools are often involved. Although these tools assist with making the job more efficient, they also present dangers to the user and others. Flying debris and loud noise are common issues when using power tools. Precautions should be taken to avoid injuries to your eyes and ears. Approved safety glasses should be worn during cleanup operations to prevent objects and debris from entering the eye. Did you know a chainsaw puts out 104 dB which is almost as loud as a helicopter taking off? Hearing protection, such as earplugs or earmuffs, should be worn whenever using power tools to minimize hearing loss or damage. Ensure that the hearing protection is properly fitted before starting power equipment.

If an eye injury occurs, seek urgent or emergency care at one of our many convenient locations, then schedule a follow up appointment with a UTMB Health ophthalmology specialist. If you experience ringing in your ears, or a constant buzz, schedule a hearing exam with one of our audiology experts.

Psychological distress 

When a disaster hits, it is common to experience a wide range of emotions and that is natural. Fear, anxiety, hopelessness, irritability, frustration and a loss of interest in everyday activities can begin to set in as recovery takes place. Learning to understand these feelings can help you cope and establish a support system to begin healing.

Psychological distress becomes a concern in the long term if these feelings persist or become unmanageable. Over time, anxiety can also lead to depression. If you begin to feel overwhelmed or can’t go on, seek out professional help from a behavioral specialist. Remember, children and the elderly may experience and process their feelings differently, pay attention to changes in behavior and signs of stress.

Here are some tips to help cope with the stress of recovery:

  • Talk to others about how you are feeling and what you experienced. You need to express sadness, grief, anger and fear over what has happened and what you are facing.
  • Don’t overwork yourself. Take time off from repairs to be with your family. Make time for recreation, relaxation or a favorite hobby.
  • Don’t let yourself become isolated.
  • Seek out and maintain connections with your community, friends, relatives, neighbors, coworkers or church members.
  • Pay close attention to your physical health as prolonged stress can take a toll on your body. Maintain a good diet, get enough sleep and exercise regularly.
  • Upsetting times can cause some people to use alcohol or drugs to cope with stress. In the long run, they will not help and will likely cause other problems.

If your stress level becomes unmanageable or lasts longer than three months, contact our Behavioral and Mental Health experts.

Rashes and Sores

Since floodwaters may have been contaminated during the floods, objects that were submerged may be a source for skin rashes. When cleaning up or moving flood debris, avoid skin contact by wearing pants and long sleeve shirts, rubber boots and gloves. People with open wounds also need to take extra care to keep them covered as floodwaters can easily cause a wound to become infected. Allergies to mold and other irritants, as well as exposure to chemicals during clean-up can lead to rashes or sores. If a rash or sore persists after standard treatment options, consider visiting a UTMB Health urgent care clinic or dermatologist for further examination to reduce the risk of infection.

Stomach Illnesses 

Although flood waters have receded, the contamination left behind can lead to gastrointestinal disorders. Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal cramps can result from viruses, bacteria or other microorganisms left behind on many surfaces contaminated by flood waters. Some germs can cause illness when only a few are ingested.

Practicing good personal hygiene during clean-up is essential. Wash your hands carefully with soap and disinfected water before eating or handling food, after clean-up work and after handling flood water contaminated items. Most of these minor gastrointestinal disorders can be managed if you drink plenty of fluids so you don’t become dehydrated. Special attention should be given to small children and the elderly if they develop moderate to severe diarrhea, particularly if it lasts longer than three days.

If your illness is serious enough, see a UTMB Health primary care physician to determine the cause of your illness and to prevent others from becoming ill. 

Creatures and Chemicals

The high surge of water in flooded areas often displace animals as well. Be aware of wild animals that may choose to hide in debris piles, fallen trees, or exposed houses. Watch where you place your hands and feet when moving debris, wear Black Widowheavy gloves, long pants, socks and boots whenever possible during clean-up. If bitten or scratched by a wild animal, seek urgent or emergency medical attention as soon as possible or call the Poison Center at 800-222-1222.

Exposure to chemicals and toxic gases can also be a danger during clean-up. When handling bleach or other chemicals, follow instructions as noted on the package, be sure to wear the proper protective clothing and protection gear, and keep plenty of clean water on hand for eyewash and other first aid treatments. Use extreme caution when handling containers holding unknown substances or known toxic substances. Remember that all fuel-powered equipment should be operated outdoors, do not bring them indoors or use in confined spaces, as they may pose a carbon monoxide hazard. The Southeast Texas Poison Center can provide expertise in household chemicals and environmental toxins.

Mosquito-borne diseases 

Large quantities of standing water make Harvey-affected areas prone to mosquitoes that could transmit Zika, dengue, West Nile virus and other diseases. Recovery efforts should include draining all standing water and empty water from outdoor items such as old tires, cans and flower pots. Reducing mosquito breeding places in your area can help minimize the spread of mosquito-borne diseases. Protect yourself by wearing proper clothing, using the appropriate insect repellent containing DEET, and knowing the signs and symptoms of Zika. Learn more about Zika prevention and research here

Take Care of Your Health 

Are you paying attention to your everyday health? The hard work and stress that goes along with recovery can put a strain on your health, both mentally and physically. Remember to take your daily medications, refill prescriptions if needed, and try to eat a healthy diet. As much as possible, maintain regular routines, engage in enjoyable activities, and make time to be alone or with a loved one. It’s important to be realistic about recovery, understand that it may not be an easy or short-term process. Don’t wait for things to become overwhelming or out of control, talk to your primary care provider. They are often the first step in getting the care you need.

This information provides guidelines and tips for a safe and healthy way to clean up after a flood. Information was gathered from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Texas Department of State Health Services, and UTMB Health.