Ask Dr. Nandi: What are the health hazards of hurricanes, tropical storms?

Posted at 6:20 PM, Sep 14, 2018
and last updated 2018-09-15 07:25:10-04

As Hurricane Florence leaves a devastating mess in North Carolina, the good news is that scores of people have been rescued.  Although they may now be safe, there are hidden health hazards that they, and thousands of other residents, could be facing in the post-hurricane aftermath.  

Question: What are some of the unexpected health hazards?

Experiencing a hurricane is scary and distressing but what follows it can be just as hazardous.  Often we see images of people wading through very deep waters and that can present several health issues.   Because floodwater can carry germs and is often a mix of rain, sewage and chemicals.  So people can end up with boils or skin rashes on their bodies, or experience burning of the skin and eyes.  Also open wounds can become infected, and you’re more at risk to get dermatitis, pink eye, or ear, nose and throat infections.  

Question: What about drinking water and food?

Drinking water or eating food is also a concern if it’s contaminated.  This can cause stomach upset and diarrheal diseases like E. coli or Salmonella infection.  You could also pick up a potentially dangerous bacterial disease called Leptospirosis.  If left untreated, it can lead to kidney failure, meningitis, respiratory distress, even death.  So it’s extremely important to have access to clean water as soon as possible. Because we also don’t want people to become dehydrated, as that can be very serious especially for children and older adults.  

Question: What about mental health concerns?

Studies show that mental health can really be impacted. But it’s no surprise that a natural disaster can lead to extra stress, anxiety, anger, grief, and depression.  Most people will recover but for some, the trauma could be long-lasting and they may end up with post-traumatic-stress-disorder.  Children especially can suffer, especially if they were separated from parents.  Counseling can help and there’s also a Disaster Distress Helpline offered by the Health and Human Services Department that people can call to speak with a mental health professional.