If you are faced with cleaning up an area that has been flooded or contaminated with sewage, you may be concerned about the health risks associated with this activity. There are disease-causing organisms that can be transmitted by contact with flood water or sewage. Although remote, these include:
Even though there is some risk of disease transmission during contact with flood water and sewage, that risk is relatively small. There have been many studies of individuals who work in sewage treatment plants. In the studies, it was found that these individuals do not have any greater incidence of infection from the above organisms than the general adult population. It was also found that the standard immunization requirements which apply to the general population would apply to those exposed to sewage. Therefore, no additional immunizations are needed after a flood or sewage backup.
The greatest danger is not the risk of disease, but the risk of electrocution or explosion. Do not enter a flooded basement or light matches until the utility companies have shut off the gas and electric service.
The illnesses people get from the aforementioned organisms are called fecal -oral diseases. People get these diseases when they get feces or stool in their mouth – often from dirty hands. Fecal-oral diseases are spread in two ways:
Fecal-oral diseases are infections of the intestinal tract. Symptoms include fever, nausea, cramps, headache, vomiting, and diarrhea. If you have these symptoms and they last longer than two days, call your doctor. If a child under one year of age gets these symptoms, call your doctor right away. The incubation period for a fecal-oral disease (i.e., the time between initial contact with contamination and onset of illness) is usually one to three days.
Prevention is the key. Follow these steps to reduce your risk:
Wash your hands after every contact with the flooded are, after using the toilet, and before eating.
Follow appropriate sanitizing procedures
Dispose of trash, including objects like toys and clothing, in leak-proof bags and label as contaminated with sewage. Large items that cannot be bagged, such as furniture or carpet, should also be labeled as contaminated with sewage. Warning labels, attached to trash that is placed at the curb for pickup, will help prevent other people from salvaging these items.