LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - As flood waters start to recede in the coming days, infectious disease specialists are warning of potential health threats that could be serious. Any space that flood waters touched could be contaminated with e-coli and sewer-related bacteria.
That creates an environment similar to a septic tank, warns Lake Charles Memorial Hospital infection preventionist, Bridget Redlich.
"With this potential mixture with the sewage into the fresh water that's coming from the river flooding, you always just want to consider that what you could expose yourself to what might be mixed with fecal matter or waste-type products," said Redlich.
Eating or drinking anything contaminated by flood waters can cause diarrheal disease.
If you have an open wound, Redlich says you need to cover it with a waterproof bandage.
"If you do get a cut or a scrape or anything that breaks through the skin during the clean-up process, the potential of that being exposed to something that could get you really sick, you want to make sure that that's cleaned well and that your tetanus is up to date," said Redlich.
Before the clean-up process starts, make sure you have the correct barrier protection. That includes rubber boots, and a mask, rubber gloves, and protective eyewear.
"During the clean-up process, you want to make sure that you discard of any items that cannot be properly cleaned and disinfected," said Redlich. "That would be things that you cannot put in a washing machine, even a commercial-type washing machine."
Clothes and linens that came in contact with flood or sewage water must be washed in hot water with detergent. Contaminated drywall and insulation needs to be removed.
"You can definitely have mold formation in things that have been saturated and are in the drying process: insulation, carpeting, sheetrock, furnishings," said Redlich.
Help expedite the drying process by using fans and dehumidifiers. Wash your hands with soap and water after clean-ups and Redlich says to keep the most vulnerable population out of the home until it is deemed safe again.
"Children, pets, people with immuno-compromised health conditions should not be allowed back in those areas until clean-up is complete, said Redlich.
Avoid downed power lines, as well, and talk to your electric company before making any repairs to your home.