Prevent Illness After a Disaster

a picture of flooded homes
Highlights
  • Clean up, disinfect, and practice good hygiene to avoid illness from bacteria, viruses, mold, and mildew.
  • Get medical care if you are injured, sick, or having trouble coping with stress.
  • To prevent carbon monoxide poisoning, only use generators, pressure washers, grills, camp stoves, or other gasoline, propane, natural gas, or charcoal-burning devices outside and away from open windows, doors, and air vents.
  • Stay cool and drink plenty of fluids to prevent heat-related illness.

 

Protect Yourself from Animal and Insect-Related Hazards

A Group of Dogs Outdoors

  • Natural disasters can bring people in closer contact with wildlife, such as snakes, alligators, and insects, especially when there is flooding. Disasters can also increase the spread of certain diseases between animals and people, such as rabies and leptospirosis. Be aware of these risks and avoid contact with wild or stray animals.
  • Keep pets in a carrier or on a leash when outside, and only release them indoors until conditions outside improve. Do not let pets interact with strays or wild animals.
  • Call local authorities to handle stray, dead, or sick animals as soon as possible.
  • For more information, contact your local animal shelter or services, a veterinarian, or the Humane Society for advice on dealing with pets or stray or wild animals after an emergency.

For information on specific animal and insect issues, see Protect Yourself from Animal- and Insect-Related Hazards After a Natural Disaster.

Prevent Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
  • Carbon monoxide (CO) is an odorless, colorless gas that can cause sudden illness and death if you breathe it. Never use generators, pressure washers, grills, camp stoves, or other gasoline, propane, natural gas, or charcoal-burning devices inside your home, basement, garage, or camper—or even outside near an open window, door, or vent.
  • Don’t heat your house with a gas oven.
  • If you are too hot or too cold, or you need to prepare food, don’t put yourself and your family at risk for CO poisoning—look to friends, family, or a community shelter for help.
  • If your CO detector sounds, leave your home immediately and call 911.
  • Seek prompt medical attention if you suspect CO poisoning and are feeling dizzy, light-headed, or nauseated.

For further guidance on avoiding CO poisoning, see Protect Yourself from Carbon Monoxide Poisoning After an Emergency.

Clean Up Safely After Floods
  • To prevent illness, disinfect and dry buildings and items in them. This will prevent growth of some bacteria, viruses, mold, and mildew that can cause illness.

For more information, see Flood Water After a Disaster or Emergency.

Keep Food and Drinking Water Safe

Faucet with Running Water

  • Food may not be safe to eat during and after an emergency. Water may not be safe for cooking.
  • Water may not be safe to drink, clean with, or bathe in after an emergency, such as a hurricane or flood. During and after a disaster, water can become contaminated with microorganisms (for example, bacteria), sewage, agricultural or industrial waste, chemicals, and other substances that can cause illness or death.
  • Listen to and follow public announcements. Local authorities will tell you if water is safe to drink or to use for cooking or bathing. Follow local instructions to use bottled water or to boil or disinfect water for cooking, cleaning, or bathing.

For more information, see Keep Food and Water Safe after a Natural Disaster or Power Outage and Food & Water Safety and Hand Hygiene Resources.

Wash Your Hands
  • washing hands with soap and water in a sink

    Always wash your hands with soap and boiled or disinfected water before preparing or eating food, after toilet use, after participating in cleanup activities, and after handling articles contaminated by floodwater or sewage. Use warm water when available. Wash children’s hands frequently (always before meals).

  • Disinfect water for washing by mixing 1/8 teaspoon of household bleach per 1 gallon of water). Let it stand for 30 minutes. If the water is cloudy, use a solution of 1/4 teaspoon of household bleach per 1 gallon of water.
  • If water isn’t available, use alcohol-based products made for washing hands.

For more tips on washing your hands, see Clean Hands Save Lives: Emergency Situations and Food & Water Safety and Hand Hygiene Resources.

Infectious Disease

Infectious disease outbreaks of diarrheal and respiratory illnesses can occur when access to safe water and sewage systems are disrupted, personal hygiene is difficult to maintain, and people are living in crowded conditions, such as shelters.

Post-hurricane conditions may pose an increased risk for the spread of common infectious diseases, like influenza and less common illnesses, like leptospirosis, hepatitis A, and vibriosis.

Immunizations

For information on immunizations for evacuees, relief workers, emergency responders and travelers, see Immunization After a Natural Disaster.

Protect Mental Health
  • The days and weeks after an emergency are going to be rough. Some sleeplessness, anxiety, anger, hyperactivity, mild depression, or lethargy are normal and may go away with time. If you feel any of these symptoms acutely, seek counseling. Your state, local, tribal health departments will help you find local resources, including hospitals or health care providers that you may need.
  • Seek medical care if you are injured, feel sick, or have acute stress and anxiety.
  • Keep as many elements of your normal routine incorporated into the disaster plans as possible, including activities to calm children’s fears.
  • Be aware that you may have fewer resources to attend to your day-to-day conflicts, so it is best to resolve what you can ahead of time.
  • Turn to family, friends, and important social or religious contacts to setup support networks to deal with the potential stressors.
  • 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.

For additional resources, see
Coping With a Disaster or Traumatic Event.

Monitor your radio or television for up-to-date emergency information.

Prevent Mosquito Bites

Close-Up of Mosquito

The best way to prevent infection from diseases spread by mosquitoes is to prevent mosquito bites. Mosquitoes bite during the day and night. Take the following steps to protect yourself and your family:

  • Use EPA-registered insect repellent
  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants
  • Take steps to control mosquitoes indoors and outdoors

For more information, see our information on how to Protect yourself and your family from mosquito bites.

Prevent Illness from Sewage
  • If there is flooding along with a hurricane, the water may contain fecal material from overflowing sewage systems and agricultural and industrial waste.
  • If there has been a backflow of sewage into your house, wear rubber boots and waterproof gloves during cleanup. Remove and discard contaminated household materials that cannot be disinfected, such as wall coverings, cloth, rugs, and drywall.
    • People with a weakened immune system, especially people receiving treatment for cancer, people who have had an organ or stem cell transplant, and people taking medicines that suppress the immune system, should avoid cleanup activities.
  • If you have any open cuts or sores that will be exposed to floodwater, keep them as clean as possible by washing them with soap and applying an antibiotic ointment to discourage infection and a clean, dry, waterproof bandage.
  • Wash clothes contaminated with flood or sewage water in hot water and detergent and separately from uncontaminated clothes and linens.
  • Do not allow children to play in floodwater areas and do not allow children to play with floodwater-contaminated toys that have not been disinfected. Disinfect toys by using a solution of one cup of bleach in five gallons of water. Some toys, such as stuffed animals and baby toys, cannot be disinfected; they should be discarded.

Monitor your radio or television for up-to-date emergency information.

Prevent Temperature-Related Illness
  • When standing or working in water that 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 heat–related illness:
    • Stay in air-conditioned buildings.
    • Take breaks in shaded areas or in cool rooms.
    • Drink water and nonalcoholic fluids often.
    • Wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing.
    • Do outdoor activities during cooler hours.

For further guidance, visit the CDC Extreme Heat website.

Monitor your radio or television for up-to-date emergency information.

Prevent or Treat Wounds
  • a first aide kit

    Immediately clean out all open wounds and cuts with soap and clean water. Keep wounds covered with clean, dry bandages that are large enough to cover the wound and contain any pus or drainage. Change bandages as needed and when drainage can be seen through the bandage. Contact a doctor to find out whether more treatment is needed (such as a tetanus shot). If a wound gets red, swells, or drains, seek immediate medical attention.

  • 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. (See also the CDC Rabies website, Rat-Bite Fever: Frequently Asked Questions, and Medical Problems and Treatment Considerations for the Red Imported Fire AntCdc-pdfExternal [PDF – 1.96 MB]
  • If your skin or eyes may have come in contact with hazardous materials, such as acid from a car battery, wash thoroughly with decontaminated water and seek medical attention as needed.
  • If you have wounds, you should be evaluated for a tetanus immunization, just as you would at any other time of injury. If you receive a puncture wound or a wound contaminated with feces, soil, or saliva, have a doctor or health department determine whether a tetanus booster is necessary based on individual records.

For further guidance, see Emergency Wound Care After a Natural Disaster.

Monitor your radio or television for up-to-date emergency information.

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Page last reviewed: January 29, 2019
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