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Emergency Wound Care After a Natural Disaster

Woman putting a bandaid

[NOTE: Health professionals should see Emergency Wound Management for Healthcare Professionals.]

The risk for injury during and after a hurricane and other natural disasters is high. Prompt first aid can help heal small wounds and prevent infection. Tetanus, other bacterial infections, and fungal infections are potential health threats for persons who have open wounds.

Seek medical attention as soon as possible if:

  • There is a foreign object (soil, wood, metal, or other objects) embedded in the wound;
  • The wound is at special risk of infection (such as a dog bite or a puncture by a dirty object);
  • An old wound shows signs of becoming infected (increased pain and soreness, swelling, redness, draining, or you develop a fever).

How to Care for Minor Wounds

  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and clean water if possible.
  • Avoid touching the wound with your fingers while treating it (if possible, use disposable, latex gloves).
  • Remove obstructive jewelry and clothing from the injured body part.
  • Apply direct pressure to any bleeding wound to control bleeding.
  • Clean the wound after bleeding has stopped.
    • Examine wounds for dirt and foreign objects.
    • Gently flood the wound with bottled water or clean running water (if available, saline solution is preferred).
    • Gently clean around the wound with soap and clean water.
    • Pat dry and apply an adhesive bandage or dry clean cloth.
  • Leave unclean wounds, bites, and punctures open. Wounds that are not cleaned correctly can trap bacteria and result in infection.
  • Provide pain relievers when possible.

Other Considerations

  • Expect a variety of infection types from wounds exposed to standing water, sea life, and ocean water.
  • Wounds in contact with soil and sand can become infected.
  • Puncture wounds can carry bits of clothing and dirt into wounds and result in infection.
  • Crush injuries are more likely to become infected than wounds from cuts.
  • Take steps to prevent tetanus

If you have wounds, you should be evaluated for a tetanus immunization. If you receive a puncture wound or a wound contaminated with feces, soil, or saliva, have a health care professional determine whether a tetanus booster is necessary based on individual records.


  • Krohmer, J.R., Rapp M.T. & American College of Emergency Physicians.(2001). First aid manual: A comprehensive guide to treating emergency victims of all ages in any situation. (3 rd ed.) New York : Dorling Kindersley Limited.
  • Tintinalli, J.E., Kelen, G.D., Stapczynski, J.S., & American College of Emergency Physicians. (2004). Emergency medicine: A comprehensive guide. (6th ed.) New York : McGraw-Hill.