State public health officials are seeing more cases of hypothermia this week in parts of the state experiencing historic flooding.
That’s not unheard of, officials say, but unique given the state typically doesn’t see overflowing banks until later in the year.
Western Iowa and two other states have been slammed this month as snow melt and ice jams caused a number of levees to be breached along the Missouri River, inundating nearby small towns and farms and forcing some to evacuate their homes.
The city of Cedar Rapids also took precautions against flood damage when the Cedar River rose to major flood stage this week, closing roads throughout the city that included Bowling Street SW and Edgewood Road NW.
As some Iowans in the western part of the state begin returning to their properties to assess damage and salvage what they can, officials from the Iowa Department of Public Health are cautioning residents to take steps to stay healthy.
“The health concerns most typically align with cleanup efforts after waters recede,” said Ken Sharp, Department of Public Health division director for acute disease prevention, emergency response and environmental health.
But this year, Sharp said they’ve had more reports of the cold floodwater becoming a safety concern.
“What’s unique this year, since the flooding started early due to snowpack melting and ice jams, we’ve heard anecdotally of increased reports of hypothermia,” Sharp said. “There are reports of individuals going into very cold water and then later showing up at the hospital with hypothermia.”
The state public health department encourages anyone entering flooded areas to be cautious, as low visibility in the water can result in injury.
People commonly ask about the risk of tetanus during floods, Sharp said, but “flooding and exposure to floodwater has not been shown to increase tetanus disease.” Iowans do not need a tetanus booster unless they are injured and their wounds are contaminated by the environment.
Floodwater often contains contaminants such as mud, sewage or chemicals. So when in doubt, “throw it out,” Sharp said. Never keep food that may have had contact with water.
“Any time we have water, it’s always safe to assume there are things in there that you want to reduce your exposure to,” Sharp said.
As people re-enter their homes and begin the clean up process, the Department of Public Health encourages “good, old-fashioned hygiene practices,” Sharp said. Always wash your hands and use bleach when cleaning items, he added.
Carbon monoxide exposure is a major issue seen by Department of Public Health as individuals using gas-powered generators or washers sometimes put them in areas not well-ventilated.
“we want to remind folks to be careful with those,” Sharp said. “Be sure to place those in well-ventilated areas, and preferably outdoors.”
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For more flood-related disease precaution and best practices for cleaning up after a natural disaster, visit idph.iowa.gov/flooding.
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