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Home / News and Events / Health Tips / Watch for risks in flood-damaged areas
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Watch for risks in flood-damaged areas

Reviewed By: John Williams, M.D., assistant professor of Pediatrics, Microbiology and Immunology (Last Updated: May 6, 2010)

The flood disaster that destroyed so many homes across middle Tennessee in 2010 left a broad wake of sludge and debris. Many neighborhoods, public places, and parks were inundated with flood waters. Experts at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt  warned parents to be aware of lingering risks.

Children are naturally curious and will find interesting items washed into flood areas. They will be tempted to pick them up or even collect them. But as with cleanup from any disaster, there is a higher risk of cuts and abrasions and, in this case, exposure to sewage and other contaminants that come with flood waters.

"Open wounds always create the possibility of infection, but may be especially at risk for unusual germs if cuts are exposed to flood waters or mud," said John Williams, M.D., assistant professor of Pediatrics, Microbiology and Immunology.

"Parents should make sure all cuts are cleaned promptly with soap and water, with antibiotic ointment applied, covered, and watched carefully. Parents should also make sure that children are up to date on their tetanus vaccine, since tetanus germs are found in soil worldwide." 

Signs of infection include redness, streaking, yellow liquid oozing from the cut, pain, or fever. Call your doctor if these signs are present. If older children and teens want to help with cleanup, insist they wear thick gloves, sturdy pants, and protective shoes. The best advice, however, is to keep children away from flood-damaged areas.

Another risk from flood damage is exposure to diseases carried by mosquitoes. Warm weather brings mosquitoes, and increased standing water may allow them to breed in greater numbers. In some cases insect bites can become infected like cuts, as described above. Mosquitoes may carry more severe diseases, such as West Nile virus.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends parents use mosquito-repelling products containing 20 to 30 percent DEET for children older than two months.

The following information was compiled by the Injury Prevention Program Coordinator in the Pediatric Trauma Program.

Stay strong, stay safe!

As flood waters recede, people in affected areas will face a number of hazards associated with cleanup activities. Here are some tips to stay safe following a flood.

Wear protective gear

  • For most work in flooded areas, wear hard hats, goggles, heavy work gloves, and watertight boots.
  • Wear eye goggles while removing or cleaning up debris to prevent eye injuries.
  • Avoid wading in water without proper foot protection. Broken glass, metal fragments, and other debris may be submerged in the flooded area.
  • Keep children and pets out of the affected area until cleanup has been completed.

Watch out for electrical hazards

  • If water has been present anywhere near electrical circuits and electrical equipment, turn off the power at the main breaker or fuse on the service panel.
  • Do not turn the power back on until electrical equipment has been inspected by a qualified electrician.
  • Never enter flooded areas or touch electrical equipment if the ground is wet, unless you are certain that the power is off.
  • Never touch a downed power line.

Avoid carbon monoxide

  • Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless, and poisonous gas. During flood cleanup, operate all gasoline-powered devices such as pumps, generators, and pressure washers outdoors.

Fire safety

Fire can pose a major threat to an already badly damaged flood area because of inoperable fire-protection and firefighting water supply systems, hampered fire department response, and flood-damaged fire-protection systems. To protect yourself against fires after a natural disaster, keep at least two fire extinguishers easily accessible and fully charged.

Candle safety

  • Use flashlights instead of candles whenever possible.
  • Extinguish all candles when leaving the room or going to sleep.
  • Keep candles away from flammable items, such as clothing, books, curtains, or flammable liquids.
  • Use sturdy, inflammable candle holders.
  • Keep candles out of reach of children.
  • Try to avoid carrying a lit candle.
  • Never use a candle for a light when checking pilot lights or fueling equipment.

Water safety

When entering moving water, you are at risk for drowning, regardless of your ability to swim. Because those in vehicles are at greatest risk of drowning, it is important to comply with all hazard warnings on roadways and to avoid driving vehicles or heavy equipment into water of an unknown depth.

Animal safety

  • Beware of wild animals, such as raccoons and skunks, that may carry rabies.
  • Avoid dogs and cats you do not know. If bitten by any animal, contact your physician or local health department as soon as possible.
  • Animals may sheltered in abandoned homes, garages, or other buildings. Carefully inspect buildings before reoccupying.

For more detailed information please visit

Sources: Center for Disease Control, Wisconsin Department of Health

Compiled by: Purnima Unni, MPH, CHES, Injury prevention Coordinator

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