Infectious Disease After A Hurricane Disaster

By Delialah Falcon. May 7th 2016

Following a hurricane, life for those affected can be chaotic. Most people must deal with the loss of homes, electricity and severe flooding that often occurs. However, one thing many people tend to overlook in the event of a hurricane is the possibility of the spread of infectious disease. Below you’ll find information on possible diseases after hurricane disasters.

Uncommon Diseases In The United States

Deadly, uncommon diseases like cholera and typhoid are not likely to become an epidemic following a hurricane in the United States. Diseases such as this are not commonly found in the United States and are therefore not likely to be found amongst the victims of a hurricane. Typically, the disease or infections that are seen following a hurricane are illnesses that were already common for that geographical area. Deadly diseases such as typhoid and cholera are:

  • Mostly in underdeveloped countries
  • Not typical in the United States
  • Only in hurricane disaster areas in the US if brought over from another place

Gastrointestinal Disorders

Common gastrointestinal disorders may be seen following a hurricane or other natural disaster. It is likely that sewage will contaminate the water supply. Personal hygiene may be compromised and viral infections can easily be spread among people that are in large groups, such as those living in a shelter. Additionally, eating food that has not been properly stored or has been flooded with water may bring about gastrointestinal distress. Steps to avoid gastrointestinal disorders following a hurricane include:

  • Wash your hands or use an alcohol- based hand sanitizer
  • Keep children away from water that has been displaced due to flooding
  • Cleanse hands after touching flood waters
  • Disinfect all toys that have been contaminated before children play with them
  • Refrain from ingesting flood water or food that has been kept without refrigeration

Common Colds

Following a hurricane or other natural disaster, there may be a rise in instances of the common cold. Risk for the common cold can increase following a hurricane due to:

  • Displacement from homes
  • Poor personal hygiene
  • Exposure to dust or other irritants
  • Exposure to cold weather
  • Elevated stress level, which causes lower resistance to infection
  • Decrease in proper nutrition

Soft Tissue And Skin Infections

Following a hurricane, there may be an increase in skin and soft tissue infections. Wounds may be sustained due to flying debris, shattered glass or fallen tress. People with previous open wounds and those with wounds sustained due to the hurricane need to take special precautions and care to prevent infection including:

  • Keep open wounds or rashes covered
  • Prevent wounds or skin irritations from coming into contact with flood waters that may contain bacteria
  • Clean wounds with soap and water
  • Keep wounds covered with a waterproof bandage
  • Contact your doctor or seek medical attention if the wound becomes red, raised or oozes

[See: 9 Tips On First Aid For Wounds And Cuts]

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Carbon monoxide is a deadly, odorless and colorless gas that is poisonous. It can be exposed in the home by many types of machinery. Following a hurricane, many people use generators, gas barbeques or other heat sources for warmth. To prevent carbon monoxide poisoning:

  • Never use a generator, gas grill, or other fuel burning heat source inside the home or basement
  • Keep all heating equipment at least 20 feet away from the home, away from vents and open windows
  • Never run your car in an attached garage, even if the door is open
  • Never use a gas oven to attain heat for your home
  • Place a carbon monoxide detector in every floor of your home, near all bedrooms

Food And Water Concerns

Following a hurricane, illness may be contracted from food or water sources. If your power has been out, discard all perishable, refrigerated or frozen food. Bacteria may grow on food that is not stored properly. Regarding water, listen to the radio or news station for any announcements as to the safety of your drinking water. If the water is not safe to drink or use for bathing, use bottled water or properly disinfect your water supply. Steps to safeguard your food and water to prevent illness include:

  • Discard any food that has been contaminated by flood water
  • Throw away food that has been left unrefrigerated for more than 2 hours
  • Throw away thawed food
  • Discard cans of food that are opened or damaged
  • To disinfect drinking water, keep tap water at a rolling boil for at least 1 minute
  • If you cannot boil the water, you may add 1/8 teaspoon of previously unopened, unused bleach to 1 gallon of water, allow the water and bleach mixture to sit for at least 30 minutes before use

Mold Issues

Following a hurricane and flooding, mold will undoubtedly begin to grow in places that have been exposed to water. Long-term mold exposure can cause health problems, including wheezing, trouble breathing, eye irritation or skin irritation. Exposure to mold may also trigger allergic responses for some people. Mold can been seen on surfaces and detected by smell. People most susceptible to mold infections include:

  • People with suppressed immune systems
  • People with chronic lung infections
  • People receiving cancer therapy
  • People with asthma and allergies
  • Small children and infants

Respiratory Illness

People that are in crowded settings such as that of an evacuation shelter may be at higher risk for contracting a respiratory illness following a hurricane. Common respiratory infections like the common cold, influenza, bronchitis and pneumonia may be contracted and other respiratory chronic respiratory illnesses like COPD and asthma may be aggravated. Respiratory infections are contracted by:

  • Coming in contact with the respiratory droplets of an infected person
  • Poor personal hygiene
  • Close quarters
  • Sharing personal items such as cups, utensils, toothbrushes, towels and telephones with an infected person

Chemical Contamination

Huge storm surges like that of a hurricane can cause massive structural damage but can also lead to chemical spills and contamination. Chemicals from businesses, homes or other places can be disturbed during a hurricane and released into the environment. Protect yourself from hazardous chemicals by:

  • Reporting any spills to authorities
  • Listening to advisories banning people from any particular areas or from tap water
  • If you have come in contact with any chemicals, wash yourself thoroughly with soapy water, dispose of clothing
  • If household chemicals spill, keep children and pets away
  • Do not mix chemicals together they may have a toxic reaction
  • Do not dispose of chemicals in drains or toilets

In the aftermath of a hurricane or other natural disaster, there may be much chaos and confusion around you. The most important thing to do is to remain clam and take precautions to ensure your safety and the safety of others.


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