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Health and Safety Following an Emergency


Injury Prevention after a Disaster | Personal Hygiene after an Emergency | Stress and Coping after a Disaster | Food Safety after an Emergency | Drinking Water Safety after an Emergency | Emergency Information on Private Wells and Onsite Sewage Systems | Dealing with Mold after an Emergency | Prevent Carbon Monoxide Poisoning | Dealing with Animals after a Disaster

Injury Prevention after a Disaster

pdf icon PWHD Information Sheet: Injury Prevention after a Disaster

When the wind and waters recede, people in the areas affected by a disaster will continue to face a number of hazards associated with cleanup activities. Follow these tips to keep yourself and your family safe.

Wear Protective Gear

  • For most work in flooded areas, wear hard hats, goggles, heavy work gloves and watertight boots with steel toe and insole (not just steel shank).
  • Wear earplugs or protective headphones to reduce risk from equipment noise. Equipment such as chain saws, backhoes and dryers may cause ringing in the ears and subsequent hearing damage.
  • Wear eye goggles while removing or cleaning up debris to prevent eye injuries.

Beware of 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.
  • When using gasoline and diesel generators to supply power to a building, switch the main breaker or fuse on the service panel to the off position prior to starting the generator.
  • If clearing or other work must be performed near a downed power line, contact the utility company to discuss de-energizing and grounding or shielding of power lines. Extreme caution is necessary when moving ladders and other equipment near overhead power lines to avoid inadvertent contact.

Avoid Carbon Monoxide
Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas that is poisonous to breathe. During cleanup, operate all gasoline-powered devices such as pumps, generators and pressure washers outdoors and away from open windows, doors, and air vents. Never bring gasoline-powered devices indoors. This will help to ensure your safety from carbon monoxide poisoning.

Prevent Muscle and Bone Injury
Special attention is needed to avoid back injuries associated with manual lifting and handling of debris and building materials.
To help prevent muscle and bone injury:

  • Use teams of two or more to move bulky objects.
  • Avoid lifting any material that weighs more than 50 pounds.
  • Use proper automated-assist lifting devices.
  • Use caution or seek professional assistance when removing fallen trees, cleaning up debris or using equipment, such as chain saws.
  • Wear eye goggles while removing or cleaning up debris to prevent eye injuries.

Beware of Structural Instability
Never assume that damaged structures or ground are stable. Buildings that have been submerged or have withstood rushing flood waters may have suffered structural damage and could be dangerous.

  • Don't work in or around any flood-damaged building until it has been examined and certified as safe for work by a registered professional engineer or architect.
  • Assume all stairs, floors and roofs are unsafe until they are inspected.
  • Leave immediately if shifting or unusual noises signal a possible collapse.

Avoid Hazardous Materials
Disasters can dislodge tanks, drums, pipes and equipment, which may contain hazardous materials such as pesticides or propane.

  • Do not attempt to move unidentified dislodged containers without first contacting the local fire department or hazardous materials team.
  • If working in potentially contaminated areas, avoid skin contact or inhalation of vapors by wearing appropriate protective clothing and respirators.
  • Frequently and thoroughly wash skin that may have been exposed to pesticides and other hazardous chemicals.

Be Prepared for Fires
Fire can pose a major threat to an already badly damaged 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, each with a UL rating of at least 10A, at every cleanup job.

Candle Safety

  • Use a flashlight instead of a candle whenever possible.
  • Extinguish all candles when leaving the room or going to sleep.
  • Keep candles away from items that can catch fire such as clothing, books, curtains, or flammable liquids.
  • Use candle holders that are sturdy, won’t tip over easily and are made from a material that can’t burn.
  • 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.

Prevent Drowning
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.

Reduce Risk of Heat Exhaustion and Cold Temperature Injuries
While cleaning up after the hurricane, you are at risk for developing health problems from working in hot or cold environments.
To reduce heat-related risks:

  • Drink a glass of fluid every 15 to 20 minutes.
  • Wear light-colored, loose-fitting clothing
  • Work during the cooler hours of the day.

To reduce cold–related issues or working in water which is cooler than 75 F (24 C):

  • Wear rubber boots.
  • Ensure that clothing and boots have adequate insulation.
  • Take frequent breaks out of the water.
  • Change into dry clothing when possible.

Prevent Fatigue-Related Injuries
Continued long hours of work combined with exhaustion can create a highly stressful situation during cleanup.

  • Set priorities for cleanup tasks and pace the work.
  • Avoid physical exhaustion.
  • Resume a normal sleep schedule as quickly as possible.
  • Be alert to emotional exhaustion or strain.
  • Consult family members, friends or professionals for emotional support.

Animal and Insect-Related Hazards

  • Protect against mosquito bites by wearing long, loose and light-colored clothing.
  • Use insect repellant with the smallest percentage of DEET necessary for the length of time you are exposed to mosquitoes, but no more than 50 percent for adults and 30 percent for children under 12.
  • Turn over or remove containers in your yard where water collects, such as toys, plant trays and buckets.
  • Avoid wild or stray animals. If you are bitten by any animal, seek immediate medical attention. If you are bitten by a snake, try to identify it, so that if it is poisonous, you can be given the correct anti-venom. Do not cut the wound or attempt to suck the venom out.
  • Get rid of dead animals as soon as you can.

For additional information, please visit:
Virginia Department of Health
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention


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Personal Hygiene after an Emergency

pdf icon PWHD Information Sheet: Personal Hygiene after an Emergency

Basic hygiene is very important following an emergency or disaster. To help prevent the spread of diseases that can cause illness it is important to wash your hands often, especially during cleanup efforts after a storm. Debris, floodwater and other remnants of the storm may harbor disease-causing bacteria and viruses.

Before an emergency, make sure you have created a Disaster Supply Kit with personal hygiene items you may need.

Handwashing
Always wash your hands with soap and water. Germs are spread when people forget to wash their hands or don’t wash their hands thoroughly.  If your tap water source has been contaminated in some way, wash your hands with water that has been boiled and cooled:

  • After using the bathroom or changing a diaper
  • After handling uncooked food
  • After playing with a pet
  • After handling garbage
  • After tending to someone who is sick or injured
  • After blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing
  • After participating in flood cleanup activities
  • After handling articles contaminated with flood water or sewage
  • Before preparing or eating food
  • Before and after treating a cut or wound
  • Before inserting or removing contact lenses

How to Wash Your Hands:

  • Use soap and warm running water, or boiled and cooled or disinfected water.
  • Wash all surfaces thoroughly, including wrists, palms, back of hands, fingers and under fingernails.
  • Rub hands together for at least 10 to 15 seconds and then rinse.
  • Dry with a clean and/or disposable towel.
  • Use the towel to turn off the water faucet.
  • If soap and water are not available, alcohol-based hand sanitizers can be used. Hand sanitizers are not effective when hands are visibly dirty.

Bathing
Bathing after a water-related emergency should only be done with clean, safe water. Listen to public announcements for further instructions. Sometimes water that is not safe to drink can be used for bathing.

Dental Hygiene
Brushing your teeth after a water-related emergency should only be done with clean, safe water. Listen to public announcements to find out if tap water is safe to use. If tap water is not safe, use the water stored in your Disaster Supply Kit or follow instructions to properly disinfect your tap water.

Wound Care
Keeping wounds clean and covered is crucial during an emergency. If you have open cuts or sores, keep them as clean as possible by washing well with soap and clean, safe water to control infection. If a wound develops redness, swelling, or drainage, seek immediate medical attention. When providing first aid for a wound, clean hands can help prevent infection (see the handwashing information above.)

How to Care for Minor Wounds:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and clean water if possible.
  • Avoid touching the wound with your fingers while treating it (if possible, use disposable, latex gloves).
  • Remove obstructive jewelry and clothing from the injured body part.
  • Apply direct pressure to any bleeding wound to control bleeding.
  • Clean the wound after bleeding has stopped.
    • Examine wounds for dirt and foreign objects.
    • Gently flood the wound with bottled water or clean running water (if available, saline solution is preferred).
    • Gently clean around the wound with soap and clean water.
    • Pat dry and apply an adhesive bandage or dry clean cloth.
  • Leave unclean wounds, bites, and punctures open. Wounds that are not cleaned correctly can trap bacteria and result in infection.
  • Provide pain relievers when possible.

Other Considerations

  • Expect a variety of infection types from wounds exposed to standing water, sea life, and ocean water.
  • Wounds in contact with soil and sand can become infected.
  • Puncture wounds can carry bits of clothing and dirt into wounds and result in infection.
  • Crush injuries are more likely to become infected than wounds from cuts.
  • Take steps to prevent tetanus

For additional information, please visit:
Virginia Department of Health
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention


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Stress and Coping after a Disaster

pdf icon PWHD Information Sheet: Stress and Coping after a Disaster

The days and weeks after a disaster take a mental toll on all who are experiencing the incident and even those with no direct involvement in the incident.  The Prince William Health District advises that in addition to your physical health, you take some time to consider your mental health as well. Remember that some sleeplessness, anxiety, anger, hyperactivity, mild depression, or lethargy are normal and may go away with time. If you feel any of these symptoms severely, seek counseling.

Individual responses to a threatening or potentially-traumatic event may vary. Emotional reactions may include feelings of fear, grief and depression. Physical and behavioral responses might include nausea, dizziness and changes in appetite and sleep patterns, as well as withdrawal from daily activities. Responses to trauma can last for weeks to months before people start to feel normal again. You may have strong feelings right away, or you may not notice a change until much later, after the crisis is over. Stress can change how you act with your friends and family. It will take time for you to feel better and for your life to return to normal. Give yourself time to heal. Seek medical care if you become injured, feel sick, or experience stress and anxiety.

The following are ways to ease disaster-related stress:

  • Talk with someone about your feelings - anger, sorrow, and other emotions - even though it may be difficult.
  • Seek help from professional counselors who deal with post-disaster stress.
  • Do not hold yourself responsible for the disastrous event or be frustrated because you feel you cannot help directly in the rescue work.
  • Take steps to promote your own physical and emotional healing by healthy eating, rest, exercise, relaxation, and meditation.
  • Maintain a normal family and daily routine, limiting demanding responsibilities on yourself and your family.
  • Spend time with family and friends.
  • Participate in memorials.
  • Use existing support groups of family, friends, and religious institutions.
  • Let your child know that it is okay to feel upset when something bad or scary happens. Encourage your child to express feelings and thoughts, without making judgments.
  • Ensure you are ready for future events by restocking your Disaster Supply Kit and updating your family disaster plan. Doing these positive actions can be comforting.

Ask for help if you:

  • Are not able to take care of yourself or your children.
  • Are not able to do your job.
  • Use alcohol or drugs to get away from your problems.
  • Feel sad or depressed for more than two weeks
  • Think about suicide. Help is available 24/7 by dialing 1-800-273-TALK (8255). For Hearing & Speech Impaired with TTY Equipment: 1-800-799-4TTY (4889).

Disaster Distress Helpline
The Disaster Distress Helpline (DDH) is the nation’s first hotline dedicated to providing disaster crisis counseling. The toll-free Helpline operates 24 hours-a-day, seven days a week. This free, confidential and multilingual, crisis support service is available via telephone (1-800-985-5990; TTY for deaf and hearing impaired: 1-800-846-8517) and SMS (Text ‘TalkWithUs’ to 66746; Spanish-speakers can text “Hablanos” to 66746) to residents who are experiencing psychological distress as a result of a natural or man-made disaster, incidents of mass violence or any other disasters.


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Food Safety after an Emergency

pdf icon PWHD Information Sheet: Food Safety Emergency Information

Power outages can occur at any time of the year and it may take from a few hours to several days for electricity to be restored to residential areas. Without electricity or a cold source, food stored in refrigerators and freezers can become unsafe. Bacteria in food grow rapidly at temperatures between 40 and 140 °F, and if these foods are consumed, people can become very sick. In the case of an electrical outage, it is important to take careful precautions to ensure food safety. The risk of food poisoning is heightened when refrigerators and ovens are inoperable. Discard any food that has been at room temperature for two hours or more, and any food that has an unusual odor, color or texture. Just remember, “When in doubt, throw it out!”

Practice safe food handling and prevent food-borne illness by following these tips from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA):

Steps to Follow to Prepare for a Possible Emergency

  • Keep an appliance thermometer in the refrigerator and freezer. An appliance thermometer indicates the temperature in the refrigerator and freezer. In the case of a power outage, it can help determine the safety of the food.
  • Make sure the freezer is at 0 °F or below and the refrigerator is at 40 °F or below.
  • Freeze containers of water ahead of time for ice to help keep food cold in the freezer, refrigerator, or coolers after the power is out. Freeze gel packs for use in coolers.
  • Freeze refrigerated items such as leftovers, milk and fresh meat and poultry that you may not need immediately — this helps keep them at a safe temperature longer.
  • Plan ahead and know where dry ice and block ice can be purchased.
  • Have coolers on hand to keep refrigerated food cold if the power will be out for more than 4 hours.
  • Group food together in the freezer - this helps the food stay cold longer.
  • Store food on shelves that will be safely out of the way of contaminated water in case of flooding.

Steps to Follow After the Emergency

  • Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to maintain the cold temperature.
  • The refrigerator will keep food safe for about 4 hours if it is unopened. A full freezer will hold the temperature for approximately 48 hours (24 hours if it is half full) and the door remains closed.
  • Discard refrigerated perishable food such as meat, poultry, fish, soft cheeses, milk, eggs, leftovers, and deli items after 4 hours without power.
  • Food may be safely refrozen if it still contains ice crystals or is at 40 °F or below when checked with a food thermometer.
  • Never taste a food to determine its safety!
  • Obtain dry or block ice to keep your refrigerator and freezer as cold as possible if the power is going to be out for a prolonged period of time. Fifty pounds of dry ice should hold an 18-cubic-foot full freezer for 2 days.
  • If the power has been out for several days, check the temperature of the freezer with an appliance thermometer. If the appliance thermometer reads 40 °F or below, the food is safe to refreeze.
  • If a thermometer has not been kept in the freezer, check each package of food to determine its safety. If the food still contains ice crystals, the food is safe.

During Snow and Ice Storms

  • During a snowstorm, do not place perishable food out in the snow. Outside temperatures can vary and food can be exposed to unsanitary conditions and animals. Instead, make ice. Fill buckets, empty milk containers, or cans with water and leave them outside to freeze. Use this ice to help keep food cold in the freezer, refrigerator, or coolers.

If Flooding Occurs

  • Drink only bottled water that has not come in contact with flood water. Discard any bottled water that may have come in contact with flood water.
  • Discard any food that is not in a waterproof container if there is any chance it may have come in contact with flood water. Food containers that are not waterproof include those with screw-caps, snap lids, pull tops, and crimped caps.
  • Discard wooden cutting boards, plastic utensils, baby bottle nipples, and pacifiers that may have come in contact with flood water.
  • Undamaged, commercially prepared foods in all-metal cans and retort pouches (for example, flexible, shelf-stable juice or seafood pouches) can be saved.
  • Thoroughly wash all metal pans, ceramic dishes, and utensils that came in contact with flood water with hot soapy water. Sanitize by boiling them in clean water or by immersing them for 15 minutes in a solution of 1 tablespoon unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of drinking water.

To Remove Odors from Refrigerators and Freezers

  • If food has spoiled in a refrigerator or freezer and odors from the food remain, they may be difficult to remove. The following procedures may help but may have to be repeated several times.
  • Dispose of any spoiled or questionable food.
  • Remove shelves, crispers, and ice trays. Wash them thoroughly with hot water and detergent. Then rinse with a sanitizing solution (1 tablespoon unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of water).
  • Wash the interior of the refrigerator and freezer, including the door and gasket, with hot water and baking soda. Rinse with sanitizing solution as above.
  • Leave the door open for about 15 minutes to allow free air circulation.

For additional information, please visit:
Virginia Department of Health
Food Safety Information from the Federal Government

Watch a Video from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA):

Protección y seguridad del agua y los alimentos en caso de huracán, falta de energía eléctrica e inundaciones - Lo que usted necesita saber


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Drinking Water Safety after an Emergency

pdf icon PWHD Information Sheet: Drinking Water Safety

Drinking contaminated water may cause illness. Listen to local announcements on the safety of the water supply following an emergency.  If the public water system lost pressure, a boil water notice will likely be issued for your area. People in these areas should take precautions to avoid contaminated water, especially individuals with private wells. If your well is in a flooded area, your water may contain disease-causing organisms and may not be safe to drink. Additional information on private wells is provided in the section below.

What you Should do if your Drinking Water is Contaminated:

  • Listen to instructions from local authorities to boil water before drinking it and for use in preparing meals. People should not use any ice that is made with potentially contaminated water. Restoring water service could take some time in some areas.
  • Residents who are placed under a boil water notice should boil water at a rolling boil for one minute. This will kill any disease-causing microorganisms present in the water. The “flat” taste of boiled water can be improved by pouring it back and forth from one clean container into another (aeration), by allowing it to stand for a few hours, or by adding a pinch of salt for each quart of water boiled. Drinking bottled water is also an option for people whose water is contaminated.
  • If you can’t boil water, add 8 drops of recently purchased, unscented liquid household bleach per gallon of clear water (double the number of drops for cloudy water), stir it well, and then let the water stand for 30 minutes before you use it. You also can use water-purifying tablets from your local pharmacy or sporting goods store. Note that using bleach or tablets may not kill some disease causing microorganisms.
  • People with compromised immune systems, including those who are on chemotherapy or are HIV positive, and living in the affected areas should be extremely cautious and consume only commercial bottled water.
  • In the event of flooding near a private well, assume that the well water is contaminated until it can be tested for safety.

For additional information, please visit:
VDH Office of Drinking Water


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Emergency Information on Private Wells and Onsite Sewage Systems

pdf icon PWHD Information Sheet: Private Wells and Onsite Sewage Systems

Below are some concerns about private wells and onsite sewage systems when the area faces major storms or flooding, followed by links to other sources of information. If you have specific questions before or after an emergency, call the Prince William Health District Environmental Health Division at 703-792-6310. While the emergency is in progress, Prince William Health District personnel will be monitoring for public health impacts and coordinating with local and state officials.

Power Outages
Power outages can cause problems for homeowners with wells and/or certain onsite sewage systems. If your home is served by a well, the well pump will not work when the power goes out. Keep sufficient potable water on hand for drinking and cooking. Toilets can be flushed by pouring a bucketful of water either into the tank and using the handle, or by pouring a bucketful into the bowl. Many well pumps operate on a 240 volt circuit, so if you plan to use a generator to run your well pump during a power outage, have the connections established by a licensed electrician. Remember – water and electricity are very dangerous together!

Some onsite sewage systems may also fail to operate properly during a power outage. The pump won’t work without power in systems with pumps, but most onsite sewage systems with a pump should have 100‐200 gallons storage capacity above the high level alarm. Exceeding this storage capacity could cause the pump chamber to overflow, spilling raw sewage on the ground. Use water sparingly.

Many alternative systems also have electrical components such as aerators, flow control switches and other equipment. Many alternative systems also include a pump and therefore should have a limited amount of storage capacity as noted above. Alternative system owners should call their licensed Alternative Onsite Sewage System Operator as soon as possible once the power returns if some components do not seem to be functioning properly.

Wells
People who rely on private wells for their water should consider their well contaminated if it was
submerged or they believe it is possible the well became submerged during the emergency.

If the well was flooded and underwater, do not turn on the pump until you are sure the electrical
system is completely dried out (See the EPA link below – What to do After the Flood.) Consider a well that has been submerged contaminated and disinfect the well and the water system once you are sure the electrical system is safe. The water should not be consumed
until bacteriological testing indicates the well is not contaminated. Two satisfactory bacteriological tests
performed on samples taken at least 24 hours apart will indicate your water supply has been properly
disinfected. Labs certified to test drinking water are available at:
http://www.dgs.state.va.us/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=4DnwLDKzC5g%3d&tabid=508

If you are unsure if the well was flooded, assume that it was and use another water source until the
water supply is disinfected. A satisfactory water test following disinfection indicates that the water supply has been disinfected initially. The second water test, taken at least 24 hours later, indicates that there is no ongoing contamination of the water supply. Be sure to follow the instructions from the lab carefully when collecting your water samples. Exposing the water or container to a source of bacteriological contamination (fingers, breath, etc.) could give a false positive result.

Onsite Sewage Systems
For any type of onsite sewage system, conventional or alternative, a hurricane or flood could submerge
the system, causing a backup of sewage into the house. Look for sewage backups in the plumbing
fixtures at the lowest elevations in your house. The wax seal between the toilet and the floor and the
first floor or basement bathtub. Wear gloves and other protective gear when cleaning up sewage.

Flooding can wash soil away from the septic tank, drainfield lines or other components, causing damage
to the components or introducing raw or partially treated sewage into the yard. Flooding may also just
cause the onsite sewage system to operate sluggishly because the soil in the dispersal area is saturated,
preventing effluent from the tank from seeping into the ground. Hurricane Isabel in September 2003,
left Virginia with acres of fallen trees from high winds combined with saturated soil. Some homeowners
found that the roots of falling trees pulled up some shallow drainfield lines and damaged some other
components such as septic tanks and distribution boxes.

If your septic tank/drainfield system is damaged by the storm or if the soil is saturated, minimize water
use within the house to prevent raw sewage from discharging to the ground surface. Minimize contact
with sewage contaminated waters. Use gloves and protective gear and wash any exposed skin with
soap and water as soon as possible. Disinfect any exposed human contact surfaces with diluted bleach
water.

Following the storm, saturated soils should begin to drain and restore function to many sluggish
systems. If your system has been damaged or remains sluggish, you will need to complete an
application to repair your damaged system with the Prince William Health District or contact your Alternative Onsite Sewage System Operator to inspect your alternative system.

For additional information, please visit:
Virginia Department of General Services - Virginia Certified Laboratories
CDC - General Food and Water Sanitation in Emergencies
EPA - What to do After the Flood
EPA - Coliform, Fecal coliform and E. coli bacteria explained
CDC - Well Testing
CDC - Water Related Diseases and Contaminants in Private Wells


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Dealing with Mold after an Emergency

pdf icon PWHD Information Sheet: Dealing with Mold after an Emergency

The Prince William Health District urges residents to take precautionary measures to avoid indoor air quality problems when cleaning up after a disaster.  Moisture that enters buildings from leaks or flooding accelerates mold growth. Molds can cause disease, trigger allergic reactions and continue to damage materials long after the incident. Failure to control moisture and mold can present short and long-term health risks.

To protect against health risks associated with mold:

  • Remove standing water from your home or office.
  • Remove wet materials.
  • If mold growth has already occurred, carefully remove or clean the moldy material.
  • Consider using personal protective equipment when cleaning or removing mold including gloves, goggles and an N-95 particle respirator (found at most local hardware stores).  Check with a health care provider before wearing a respirator.  Do not use a respirator if you have heart disease or chronic lung disease such as asthma or emphysema.
  • Individuals with known mold allergies or asthma should not clean or remove moldy materials.

Do not mix cleaners and disinfectants, as hazardous gases may produce hazardous chemical reactions.  Mixing certain types of products can produce toxic fumes and result in injury and even death. Read and follow label instructions on all products carefully before using them. Don’t forget to open windows and doors to provide plenty of fresh air. If it is safe for you to use electricity and the home is dry, use fans both during and after the use of disinfecting, cleaning, and sanitizing products.

EPA's Fact Sheet: Flood Cleanup: Avoiding Indoor Air Quality Problems - discusses steps to take when cleaning and repairing a home after flooding. This fact sheet provides tips to avoid creating indoor air quality problems during cleanup. Please visit http://www.epa.gov/iaq/flood/ to access this information.


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Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Can Be Stopped

Prevent Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

pdf icon PWHD Information Sheet: Prevent Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
 
Use of gas-powered appliances and charcoal or gas grills following a disaster increases the number of carbon monoxide poisoning cases and fatalities. As residents begin turning to alternate means to provide electricity and cooking capabilities, the Prince William Health District urges the public to avoid carbon monoxide exposure that can be a silent killer.
 
Carbon monoxide is an invisible, odorless, tasteless gas and is highly poisonous. Depending on the level of exposure, carbon monoxide may cause:

  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Chest pains for those with heart disease
  • Shortness of breath upon exertion
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Confusion
  • Lack of coordination
  • Impaired vision
  • Loss of consciousness
  • In severe cases, death

The Prince William Health District recommends the following precautions to help prevent carbon monoxide poisoning:

  • Do not burn charcoal or gas grills inside a house, garage, vehicle, tent or fireplace.
  • Never use a generator indoors, including in homes, garages, basements, crawl spaces and other enclosed or partially enclosed areas, even with ventilation. Opening doors and windows or using fans will not prevent carbon monoxide build-up in the home. 
  • Always locate the unit outdoors on a dry surface, away from doors, windows, vents and air-conditioning equipment that could allow carbon monoxide to come indoors.
  • Follow the instructions that come with your generator. Position the unit outdoors and away from doors, windows, vents and air conditioning equipment that could allow carbon monoxide to come indoors. 
  • Have your home heating systems (including chimneys and flues) inspected each year for proper operations and leakage.
  • Install battery-operated carbon monoxide detectors or plug-in carbon monoxide detectors with battery back-up in your home, according to the manufacturer’s installation instructions.  The carbon monoxide detectors should conform to the latest safety standards for carbon monoxide detectors (UL 2034, IAS 6-96, or CSA 6.19.01).
  • Test your carbon monoxide detectors frequently and replace dead batteries.
  • If your carbon monoxide detector indicates high levels of carbon monoxide, leave the building immediately and call 911.
  • Remember that you cannot see or smell carbon monoxide and portable generators can produce high levels of carbon monoxide very quickly. 
  • If you start to feel sick, dizzy, or weak while using a generator, get to fresh air right away.  Do not delay.
  • If you have a poisoning emergency, call the national Poison Information Center number at (800) 222-1222.  If the victim has collapsed or is not breathing, call 911 immediately.

The CDC has prepared many card-sized carbon monoxide resources that can be printed and placed on generators and other sources of carbon monoxide. These resources are available at www.bt.cdc.gov/disasters/co-materials.asp.

For additional information, please visit:
Virginia Department of Health

http://www.vdh.virginia.gov/weather/CarbonMonoxidePoisoning.htm  

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

http://www.cdc.gov/co/

Watch a public service announcement from the CDC:


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Dealing with Animals after a Disaster

pdf icon PWHD Information Sheet: Dealing with Animals after a Disaster

After a disaster, wild and domestic animals may be displaced from their habitat.  Once displaced, animals will shelter wherever they can, including on your property and even inside your home.  The following information will help you determine the correct course of action should you encounter a wild or domestic animal following a disaster. 

Wild Animals
Do not feed or attempt to approach any wild animal. Wild animals can inflict serious physical injury to humans. Call animal control immediately if the animal poses a danger to you.
An easy way to decrease your chances of coming into contact with wild animals is to make your backyard less inviting.  This includes picking up trash that could be consumed by animals and the removal of debris that could act as shelters for rodents, reptiles and insects. All homeowners should be aware of:

  • Automobile tires make great hiding spots for reptiles and can also act as breeding grounds for mosquitoes when full of stagnant water. 
  • Brush piles are ideal hiding places for many rodents and small animals.
  • Unsecured trash cans are an easy target of raccoons, skunks and many other feral animals.
  • Holes in attic vents can be accessed by rodents, birds and bats.
  • Unsecured crawlspaces/decks make great homes for all types of animals.
  • Unused cars, trucks, motor homes, and boats are great shelters for wild animals.

Domestic Animals
Although domestic, stray dogs and cats can pose a serious health risk to you and your family.  Displaced animals are often under large amounts of stress and are in search of food. You should not attempt to feed or approach any stray animal.  Even the most innocent or sick looking dog or cat can cause serious physical injury if provoked. Stray animals can also pose a serious medical risk to humans since these animals often become sick from coming into contact with other sick wild animals or by eating them.

Zoonoses
Zoonoses are infectious diseases that are transmitted by vectors (animals/insects) to humans. The following is a list of zoonoses to be aware of. 

Rabies Virus: The Rabies virus is one of the most deadly animal to human transmitted diseases in the world. The rabies virus attacks the central nervous system of mammals causing the following symptoms: drooling, convulsions, excitability, loss of feeling, loss of muscle function, low grade fever (102 and lower), muscle spasms and restlessness. Without proper treatment rabies is 100% fatal.  Rabies is transmitted when an uninfected human or animal comes in contact with the saliva or bodily fluid of an infected animal. In humans, this contact often comes in the form of a bite from an infected animal.

We stress that avoiding contact with stray or wild animals is the easiest way to protect your family from Rabies. If you see an animal that looks confused, off-balance, frothing/foaming at the mouth, or out of place (raccoon in daylight) seek shelter and call Animal Control immediately.  If you are bitten, seek medical attention immediately and ensure that your healthcare provider has notified Animal Control and the Prince William Health District.  It is very important to have your pets vaccinated for rabies. Vaccinations may prevent your pet from becoming infected and possibly infecting members of your family.

Vector-borne Illnesses: Domestic and wild animals are at an increased risk of acquiring various vector borne illnesses after natural disasters such as hurricanes and severe thunderstorms that produce extensive flooding.  Moist and flooded areas are perfect breeding grounds for various vectors such as ticks, fleas and mites.  Vectors such as ticks become infected by attaching themselves to smaller animals like mice, rats, rabbits and other rodents to feed, primarily off of the their blood.  Infected animals transmit the bacteria to the vector which then falls off, digests the meal, and then begins searching for a new host.  It is at this stage of the of the vector’s life where it poses serious health risks for pets and humans. 

For additional information, please visit:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)


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Last Updated: 05-08-2013

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