As floodwaters caused by Hurricane Harvey recede along the hard hit Texas Gulf Coast and Houston areas, public officials and medical experts warn residents of significant health threats they may face in the aftermath of the cataclysmic storm.
Last weekend, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price declared a public health emergency in response to the hurricane. Numerous floodwater-related health issues weigh heavily on officials. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) list infectious diseases, chemical hazards, and injuries among them.
“General bacterial infections are certainly a concern,” said Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) spokesman Chris Van Deusen. He told Breitbart Texas this issue arose “with water treatment plants flooded in some areas.”
In several Harvey-ravaged regions, water contamination from broken sewer pipes, raw sewage, chemicals and/or the complete loss of public utilities poses significant dangers to residents who remain in their homes. The city of Beaumont lost its clean water supply this week when the utility’s main pump succumbed to rising flood waters. Local health officials recommended residents disinfect drinking water for human and pet consumption by boiling, bleaching, purifying, or using bottled water.
In September 2005, the CDC reported many infectious diseases among Hurricane Katrina evacuees including norovirus, skin rashes, plus 30 cases of drug-resistant pediatric and adult cases of Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) at a Dallas evacuee facility. The CDC also accounted for six deaths out of 24 cases of wound-associated vibrio bacteria.
Dr. Peter Hotez, a dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, cited concerns about these skin infections, noting staph and flesh-eating bacteria vibrio vulnificus among the dangerous organisms found in unsanitary flood waters. “The flesh-eating bacteria is contracted from wounds infected by contaminated waters,” he told Breitbart Texas.
Tetanus was another bacteria Van Deusen’s mentioned. It is often contracted when stepping on nails and other sharp objects. He urged Harvey victims who have not received a booster shot in the last ten years to get one.
Texas A&M University (TAMU) tested samples of Houston area floodwaters finding E. colibacteria 125 times higher than is considered safe for swimming. Dr. Terry Gentry, an associate professor at the TAMU’s Department of Soil and Crop Sciences, told KPRC: “This indicates the very likely presence of pathogenic bacteria, viruses, and other types of organisms that could cause disease in some individuals.”
“The next tier of concerns we have are respiratory illnesses, colds, and the flu,” said Van Deusen, noting evacuees sleep in close quarters in shelters where “gastro-intestinal bugs also spread.”
This week, more than 32,000 evacuees took refuge at nearly 250 shelters across the state, according to KXAS. On Friday, the CDC announced they deployed pharmacy supplies and six 250-bed medical stations to evacuation centers in Baton Rouge, Houston, and Dallas. Currently, only Houston is operational. The CDC also activated their Emergency Operations Center to help their staffers respond more efficiently to Harvey-related public health needs.
Residents returning to waterlogged homes face another wave of health risks notes Hotez, citing “mold and resulting allergic reactions, and asthma” as well as diarrheal disease from spoiled food.”
Then, he included Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), something that the National Center for PTSD estimated impacts 25 percent of flood, tornado, and hurricane survivors, although symptoms often drop off over time.