County warns of health risks after Matthew

Published 8:23 pm Monday, October 17, 2016

The Beaufort County Health Department is warning the public about potential health risks in the wake of Hurricane Matthew and its flooding.

The main risks relate to injuries caused by hidden debris under water and food contamination after a power outage, but one thing stands out as a more of concern, according to health department officials.

“Contaminated water, floodwater. We don’t know what’s in it,” said James Madson, director of Beaufort County Health Department.

Cause for concern is the possibility of the bacteria E. coli in the water, as well as other waterborne diseases such as hepatitis.

Madson said any river poses a low risk of infection, but with runoff from roads and fields, as well as untreated wastewater spills that have happened both in Washington and upstream, there is an increased risk of infection.

“When will all the increased risk come back down? Probably when the water gets back to normal,” he said.

The health department is tracking reports of disease and, as yet, there have been no spikes in the number reported.

“We actually monitor for different diseases, and we have not seen any — the biggest being gastrointestinal, stomach stuff — and that’s a good thing. … This is something we do all the time, but we’re vigilant about it after an event like this. Instead of doing it monthly, we’re doing it weekly.”

A press release from the health department outlines precautions one can take when there is a flood situation in a home:

  • Wherever possible try to avoid coming into direct contact with floodwater
  • Do not let children play in floodwater
  • Use rubber gloves when cleaning up
  • Wash hands after being in contact with floodwater, sewage or anything contaminated by these
  • Wash children’s hands regularly
  • Clean toys that have been in floodwater with a disinfectant such as bleach
  • Cover cuts or open sores
  • Do not eat any food that has been in contact with floodwater
  • Clean all surfaces with bleach before any food is placed on them
  • Clean wells (preferable by a professional and have well tested prior to using)
  • Contact a doctor if someone develops an upset stomach following flooding or sustain a major cut. The doctor may recommend tetanus shot after the wound is cleaned.

“If you’re removing any debris, and you cut yourself, you should clean that up as soon as possible, and if you haven’t had a tetanus shot in 10 years, you should get that,” Madson said.

Beaufort County Public Health Department is also providing free drinking water well testing kits through the Beaufort County Environmental Health office in Washington for well-owners whose wells were covered by floodwater. The office is located at 220 N. Market St.; for questions, call 252-946-6048.