23 April 2015

NSW Health is urging members of the public to take heed of simple advice to ensure they reduce their risk of injury, sickness or infection as a result of the recent storms and flooding which has affected much of the State’s east coast.

Dr Jeremy McAnulty, Director of Health Protection said it is important that people treat all floodwater as potentially contaminated with sewage.

“Contaminated flood waters may carry a range of viruses, bacteria and parasites,” he said.

“While the risk of infection from contact with floodwater is generally low, it is important to stay away from flood-affected areas and avoid unnecessary contact with mud and floodwaters.”

When coming into contact with floodwater or items contaminated by floodwater people should:

  • ensure feet are covered and always wear gloves
  • always wash hands thoroughly with soap or alcohol-based hand cleanser
  • cover cuts and abrasions; and
  • if you cut yourself on something that has been contaminated with floodwater, check with your GP about your tetanus vaccinations.

Dr McAnulty said widespread electricity cuts have affected refrigerated food goods and the wild weather could have impacted on the quality of drinking water.

“Dispose of all food (including frozen) that has come into contact with flood waters. Some canned food may be kept but if the can is dented or damaged it should be thrown away. If in doubt, throw it out,” Dr McAnulty said.

“If power is cut for more than four hours, food in fridges will spoil. Freezers will generally not defrost and the food kept inside should not spoil for at least 24 hours if the door has been kept shut.

“If a ‘boil water’ alert has been issued in your area, observe it strictly to prevent illness.

“Water for consumption should be brought to a rolling boil and then be allowed to cool and refrigerated in a clean container with a lid. Alternatively bottled water may be used.”

  • Cooled boiled or bottled water should be used for:
    • drinking
    • cooking
    • washing raw foods (such as seafood or salads)
    • making ice
    • cleaning teeth
    • pet's drinking water
  • All dishes, pots and pans should be washed in hot soapy water or in a dishwasher.
  • Children should take bottled or cooled boiled water to school.
  • when the ‘boil water’ alert is lifted, follow the water supplier’s instructions about flushing the household water pipes.

“During the clean-up consider your personal health - do not wait until you are thirsty to drink plenty of fluids. Take frequent breaks, stay warm when it is cold and be careful not to overheat when it is hot,” Dr McAnulty said.

“Be alert to snakes, spiders and rats that may have taken refuge in your home and begin drying out the house as soon as floodwaters recede.

“While cleaning up, be mindful of materials containing asbestos and take appropriate precautions.”

Dr McAnulty said mosquito numbers may change in flood affected areas, but are expected to decline with the cooler weather.

“NSW Health is recommending people continue to follow the advice we have promoted throughout the summer months to avoid mosquito bites and consequent risk of disease.

“Use an insect repellent on exposed skin areas and reapply every two hours. Cover up as much as possible with light-coloured loose-fitting clothing.

“Clean up your yard and remove all water-holding rubbish, regularly flush out pot plant bases, keep house guttering clear, and make sure openings of septic tanks and water tanks are covered and screened securely.”

NSW Health is advising that emergency situations such as the recent storms can trigger a mix of emotions for those affected but such feelings should pass with time.

People who use the support of family, friends, church or other organisations are generally found to recover well from such stressful situations.

However, there are times when extra support may be needed. If you experience a prolonged period of distress, please contact your GP.

Also check on how neighbours, family and friends are feeling after the storm.

For more information visit Storms and floods.