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Information for residents of flooded homes
We understand that the physical devastation that accompanies a flood is enormous. But as the flood waters recede, you need to ensure that you take steps to protect your personal health and safety. By taking some basic precautions you can help prevent many injuries as well as the possibility of some infections.
If you feel unwell this does not necessarily mean that you are suffering from any infection. If you are concerned – visit your own doctor or call NHS Direct tel 0845 4647.
The Health Protection Agency advises the following:
Both physical stress associated with overexertion in cleaning up premises and mental stress caused by temporary relocation may make you feel unwell please ensure you take rests.
You may need to take some time to consider your mental health as well. Remember that some sleeplessness, anxiety, anger, hyperactivity, mild depression, or lethargy are normal, and may go away with time. If you feel any of these symptoms acutely, seek some counseling.
Finally, in the midst of all this water, remember that cold can play a major role in your personal health. Do not add weather-related health problems like hypothermia to your other problems.
General advice on protecting against infection
The floodwater affecting your home or other property may have been contaminated with sewage, animal waste and other contaminants. However infection problems arising from floods in the UK are actually rare. Although harmful micro-organisms in flood water are very diluted and present a low risk there are a few precautions to be aware of when dealing with flooding which should prevent unnecessary additional health problems. If you follow the basic advice below you should not experience any additional health problems.
Floodwater and sewage often leaves a muddy deposit. However, experience from previous flooding and sewage contamination has shown that any risk to health is small. (The Health protection Agency advises that you do not need any booster immunisations or antibiotics.)
Health risks can be minimised by taking the following general hygiene precautions and by the use of protective clothing (waterproof boots and gloves) whilst cleaning up:
Always wash your hands with soap and clean water after going to the toilet, before eating or preparing food, after being in contact with flood water, sewage or items that have been contaminated by these, or participating in flood cleanup activities.
Don't allow children to play in flood-water areas and wash children's hands frequently (always before meals). Wash floodwater-contaminated toys with hot water or disinfect before allowing them to be used.
Keep any open cuts or sores clean and prevent them being exposed to flood water. Wear waterproof plasters.
Harmful gut bacteria such as E. coli O157 may be present in sewage and animal slurry, and this can pass into flood water, although there is likely to be substantial dilution. If anyone does develop a tummy upset following direct flooding or contact with sewage they should seek medical advice.
If the floodwater contained oil, diesel etc this should in the main be removed with the floodwater and silt. Any remaining oil, diesel etc contamination in accessible areas can be removed by using a detergent solution and washing the surface down after initial cleaning has been carried out. In inaccessible areas such as under floorboards it may present an odour problem but is not necessarily a health hazard. Further advice should be sought from Environmental Health if the odour persists or if you are particularly concerned about it for other reasons.
While in the property floorboards, walls etc will continue to dry out. Any loose material and dust resulting from this should be vacuumed up on a regular basis.
Very young children should avoid playing directly on timber floorboards or any damaged tiled floors if possible - be aware of the risk of injury from sharp edges on tiles or raised nails in the floorboards until these have been repaired.
Contact your Doctor if you become ill after accidentally ingesting (swallowing) mud or contaminated water and tell him/her your house was flooded.
How to Clean Up
When returning to your home after a flood, be aware that flood water may contain sewage. Protect yourself and your family by following these steps:
If the inside of your home is affected
If there has been a backflow of sewage into the house, wear rubber boots and waterproof gloves during cleanup.
Keep children and pets out of the affected area until cleanup has been completed.
Walls, hard-surfaced floors, and many other household surfaces should be cleaned with soap and water and disinfected with a solution of 1cup of bleach to 5 gallons of water.
Wash all linens and clothing in hot water or dry-clean them. For items that cannot be washed or dry cleaned, such as mattresses and upholstered furniture, air dry them in the sun and then spray them thoroughly with a disinfectant. Steam clean all carpeting.
Remove and discard all soft furnishings, fittings, wall coverings, cloth, rugs, and drywall (also include mattresses, carpeting, carpet padding, rugs, upholstered furniture, cosmetics, stuffed animals, baby toys, pillows, foam-rubber items, books, wall coverings, and most paper products) that are damaged beyond repair.
Remove dirty water and silt from the property including the space under the ground floor if you have wooden floors. This space may need pumping out.
Wash down all hard surfaces with hot soapy water until they look clean.
Allow to thoroughly dry - this will also help to destroy germs left behind.
Heating and good ventilation will assist the drying process. Help the drying process by using fans, air conditioning units, and dehumidifiers. Please review the 'Advice on the safe use of emergency generator' which is detailed further in this document
Thoroughly clean all hard surfaces (such as flooring, concrete, moldings, wood and metal furniture, countertops, appliances, sinks, and other plumbing fixtures) with hot water and laundry or dish detergent, then disinfect with a solution of 1 cup of household bleach to 5 gallons of water. (Note: this solution should not be used for drinking, cooking, or personal hygiene.)
After completing the cleanup, wash your hands with soap and water.
Gardens and play areas
Do not let young children play on affected grassed or paved areas until they have been cleaned down and restored to their normal condition.
Sunlight and soil help destroy harmful bacteria and any excess risk to health should disappear completely within a week or so. (The best way of protecting health is always to wash your hands before eating or preparing food).
Clothing and bedding
Clothing, bedding and other soft/fabric articles including children's toys etc should be laundered on a hot wash (60°C or the highest temperature indicated on manufacturer's instructions) which will destroy most germs that may be present. Other soft furnishings that have been contaminated and cannot be put in a washing machine will have to be professionally cleaned or, if this is not possible, may have to be disposed of.
Wash all clothes worn during the cleanup in hot water and detergent. These clothes should be washed separately from uncontaminated clothes and linens.
It is recommended that a Laundromat be used for washing large quantities of clothes and linens until your onsite waste-water system has been checked.
Returning to your home
It is recommended that you only fully re-occupy your home once the above cleaning has been carried out. There may be additional works to be carried out eventually as advised by your insurance company, housing officer, landlord, builder etc. If you decide to return to your home before this further work is completed you should:
Try to have some heating on at all times. Consider the use of a dehumidifier. Ensure the property is well ventilated. Leave windows open as much as possible but be mindful of security.
Ensure that if you have air-bricks to any under floor spaces that these are unblocked to give cross ventilation to these areas.
Food preparation and storage
Don't eat any food that has been covered by or come into contact with sewage or floodwater.
Wash your hands before and after preparing food.
Ensure all surfaces that food will come into contact with are sound and disinfected. If work tops and other areas show signs of damage, avoid food contact with these areas. Particularly make sure that the shelves including those in your refrigerator where food is stored are cleaned and disinfected.
If there is any suggestion that the drinking water is contaminated (see below) use boiled water which has then been allowed to cool to wash food which is eaten raw. It is safe to use unboiled tap water in the preparation of food which is to be cooked. It is safe to use unboiled tap water for cooking if it will be boiled during the cooking process.
Food preparation surfaces should be wiped down using hot tap water containing washing-up-liquid, and dishes and other utensils should also be washed in hot tap water containing washing-up-liquid.
Caterers should seek detailed advice from the councils food and safety team tel 01285 623000.
Try to keep any opened food in an enclosed box or tin.
All crockery, pots and pans should be thoroughly washed with hot soapy water before using. If any of these are badly chipped or damaged do not use. You could use a food safe disinfectant to sanitise them after cleaning.
Frozen food that has been at ambient temperature for a few hours should be discarded. Put contaminated flood-damaged food in black plastic refuse sacks, seal and put out when your next refuse collection is due. Check with insurers before disposal. Don't be tempted to try and salvage damaged food – including tins as they may be contaminated with sewage and chemicals left from the floodwater.
If your drinking water becomes contaminated
People whose water comes through a mains supply should follow the advice of the local water company regarding the safety of their water supply. Water companies have a duty to take all necessary steps to protect public health. If a water treatment works becomes flooded alternative supplies are normally available but consumers may be advised to boil water before drinking or temporarily refrain from using water for domestic purposes.
If you notice a change in water quality, such as the water becoming discoloured or there is a change in taste or smell, or if you are unsure, ring your local water company. If in doubt boil all water intended for drinking or use bottled water.
If you have been advised to boil your water, then boil all water for drinking, brushing teeth, washing food and making ice.
If your water is a private supply such as a well or spring, then check that it has not been affected by the floodwater. If a private well or spring has been covered by floodwater, if the water changes colour or taste, or you believe the supply has been affected by the flood then boil (or otherwise treat) the water.
Continue to boil the water until the supply has been tested and shown to be safe. Boiling water kills pathogenic bacteria, viruses and parasites that may be present in water. Bring the water to the boil and then allow it to cool before drinking. It can be stored in a clean jug covered by a saucer in a cool place (preferably in the fridge). Ice should be made from water prepared for drinking.
Use a bleach solution to rinse containers before reusing them after flooding. Use water storage tanks and other types of containers with caution. This applies particularly to pans and utensils used in cooking or food preparation.
Water from the hot tap is not suitable for drinking.
Ensure the water taps are cleaned and disinfected before using them for the first time.
Only safe high quality water should be used for dental surgery.
If there is a bottle-fed baby in the house make sure their water is boiled and do not use bottled water unless it is recommended by a doctor or health visitor. Some bottled water is unsuitable for babies as it has too many salts for their immature kidneys to manage.
How to deal with chemical hazards
Be aware of potential chemical hazards you may encounter during flood recovery. Floodwaters may have buried or moved hazardous chemical containers of solvents or other industrial chemicals from their normal storage places. If you are worried about major chemical contamination, contact the fire and rescue service for advice in the first instance.
Car batteries, even those immersed in flood water may still contain an electric charge and should only be removed with extreme caution by using insulated gloves. Avoid coming into contact with any acid that may have been spilt from the battery.
In general you should avoid contact with contaminated water and materials, but if it becomes necessary to do so, you should wear protective clothing and gloves. You should also avoid enclosed areas that may be chemically contaminated, such as garages and cellars, where hazardous fumes may build up.
The safe use of emergency generators
Remember that petrol or diesel generators, dehumidifiers and pressure washers should never be used indoors without adequate ventilation. The exhaust gases contain carbon monoxide which can quickly build up to poisonous levels without proper ventilation.
Remember the following
Replace manhole covers dislodged by the flood.
Don't switch on electrical appliances, which have been in contact with floodwater unless a competent electrician has checked them. Your local Electricity Board will be checking main supplies.
Ensure that the house is properly aired to encourage drying.
Make sure that any mould growth is properly treated.
: 21/07/2007 22:39:22
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