Health issues arise

Published 12:49 am Tuesday, August 30, 2011

As power outages continue and residents begin cleaning up the mess left by Hurricane Irene, an increasing number of local residents sustaining injuries and suffering some health problems are seeking care at Beaufort County Medical Center’s emergency room.

The emergency department at Beaufort Regional Medical Center has seen “some increase in activity” in the past two days, said Pam Shadle, director of marketing and public relations for Beaufort Regional Health System.

Some people who need power for medical equipment and whose power has not been restored at their homes are beginning to suffer breathing issues, she noted. Several people have sought help with minor injuries suffered during cleanup efforts, Shadle said.

Area residents are urged to take extra precautions to protect their health and safety, said State Health Director Dr. Jeff Engel. Injuries from falls are common after storms as residents climb ladders to repair roof damage or other damage caused by high winds and fallen trees.

Injuries and health problems are common following hurricanes, according to Engel.

Cleanup workers may be susceptible to heat-related health problems from overexertion in high temperatures, he said.

People cleaning up outside are urged to take frequent breaks to cool down and drink bottled water or other fluids to prevent overheating.

Residents without power are being told to open windows or use battery-operated or generator-powered fans to reduce heat stress.

“Falls are among the leading causes of unintentional injury and death in our state,” Engel said. “If you aren’t accustomed to working on a roof, it is best to get help. If you are doing the work yourself, have someone nearby to help steady the ladder and call for help if you fall.”

People whose homes have been flooded should be careful when re-entering as floodwaters may leave a coating of mud that makes floors and walkways slippery. If ceilings are damaged, wear a hard hat and safety glasses and avoid walking under sagging ceilings or bowed walls.

“People whose homes were flooded during the hurricane should assume everything touched by floodwater is contaminated and will have to be disinfected,” Engel said.  “Most cleanup can be done with household cleaning products. The most important rule of clean up work is to wash your hands thoroughly and often, wear rubber gloves and, if possible, waterproof boots.”

Mosquitoes increase in numbers after significant rain or flooding. In addition to being a nuisance, they also may carry a variety of dangerous diseases.

Engel said residents should use insect repellent or wear long-sleeved clothing to protect themselves from mosquitoes and empty standing water out of birdbaths, tires, flowerpots and other containers to reduce mosquito breeding.

Stinging insects, like bees, wasps and hornets, may have had their nests disturbed by storm damage. They may become very aggressive trying to defend nest sites.

Before beginning cleanup work, residents should survey work sites to see if any stinging insects are hovering in the area. If they are, residents should use commercial pesticides labeled for wasp and hornet use to get rid of them before entering, Engel said.

Tips for cleaning flooded homes

  • Do not try to remove flood-damaged materials that may contain asbestos. Buildings built before 1975 may have asbestos insulation and tape on the heating systems. Leave any suspected asbestos in place until it can be removed by trained asbestos professionals.
  • Do not turn the power back on until the electrical system has been inspected by a qualified electrician. Standing on wet ground or floors can put you at risk for electrocution. If the pilot light on a natural-gas furnace, water heater or stove has gone out, have it relit by a professional.
  • Furnishings and fixtures made from absorbent materials will need to be discarded if they have been in contact with floodwater, including mattresses, upholstered furniture, carpets and padding and books and paper products.
  • Clothes, bedding and drapes may be washed in clean, hot water with a disinfectant, or dry-clean them. Throw them away if they are moldy or mildewed.
  • If floodwater soaked wallboard, insulation or ceiling tiles, remove the items 30 inches above the water line. Paneling may be removed and saved, but wall cavities should be drained, cleaned, checked for molds and dried out. Undamaged walls, hard-surface floors and other surfaces should be cleaned and disinfected with a solution of ¼ cup of laundry bleach to a gallon of water.
  • Clean, disinfect and dry linoleum or tile floors. Floor tile and linoleum can contain asbestos and should not be disturbed. Chipping or grinding these materials may release asbestos. Use the two-bucket method when cleaning. Put cleaning solution in one bucket and rinse water in the other. Replace rinse water frequently.

For more information on cleaning up after a flood, contact the local emergency management office, health department or Red Cross chapter. Other information may be obtained from the following internet sites:;; and

Source: N.C. Department of Health and Human Services