Magandang araw mga kababayan! It seems like Spring is finally here, although it’s been teasing us with warm weather for weeks now! The good thing about this pattern of melts and freezes is that it significantly decreases the risk of flooding in Manitoba and all the risks that go with it. It’s still important to be prepared for that possibility, so let’s talk more about the implications of flooding and what you can do to protect yourself.
First off—flooding is the most common natural disaster in both developing and developed countries, and it is projected to get worse because of Climate Change. The damaging consequences of floods are not only limited to your property and possessions but can have a lasting effect on your health and wellbeing. Studies have shown that the stress from going through a flood disaster can last a long time even after the waters have receded. In addition, the impacts on health aren’t always obvious. These effects are wide-ranging and depend on a number of factors, such as where you live, the extent of flooding in the area, whether your home floods, whether you are evacuated from your home and for how long, if you have a private well, etc. Immediate health impacts of floods include drowning, injuries, hypothermia, and animal bites.
Health risks are also associated with evacuation, such as that of patients, loss of health workers, and loss of health infrastructure including essential drugs and supplies. In the medium-term, skin and soft tissue infections such as infected wounds, complications of injury, poisoning, stress and poor mental health, communicable diseases such as gastroenteritis and animal-mediated infections such as leptospirosis, and starvation are indirect effects of flooding. During a flood, there is an increased risk that drinking water wells may become contaminated with bacteria and/or any other contaminants that may be present in the floodwater. In the long-term, chronic disease, disability, poor mental health, and poverty-related diseases including malnutrition are potential outcomes. In certain parts of the world, outbreaks of mosquito-borne infections such as malaria have followed flooding due to the increase in mosquito habitats from the floodwaters. After floods, excess moisture and standing water greatly increases the risk of mold growth in homes and buildings. Those sensitive to mold may experience irritated eyes, nose, skin, or throat, difficulty breathing, and mold infections in the lungs.
So what can we do to prepare for the flooding season and prevent or minimize the negative implications to our health?
1) Get informed and prepare: the Manitoba government has set up the Flood Home Page at manitoba.ca/flooding which gives the latest flood forecasts and reports, media bulletins and news releases, contact information for useful resources, road and highway information, and links to Flood Fact Sheets. Or you can follow the Twitter account twitter.com/MBGov. You can also call the Flood Information Line at 204-945-1165 or 1-855-415-4530 (toll free) or email firstname.lastname@example.org with flood-related concerns or questions.
2) Stay off water and ice: Stay off all waterways and never attempt to enter the water. Currents at this time of year are extremely strong and can easily pull you in and carry you away. Prevent children and pets from wandering onto the ice or into water if you live near water.
3) Check road conditions: Overland or flash flooding can happen quickly and create unpredictable conditions along roads, particularly those near creeks and ditches. Stay off closed roads. Do not attempt to drive or walk through the current, if you do come near flooded roads or fast-moving water. Stay in your car and call for help. If travelling in parts of Manitoba that have had overland or flash flooding in the past, check road conditions before leaving home. For the most recent information on road conditions or highway safety, visit manitoba511.ca, call 511 or follow the Twitter account for road closures at twitter.com/MBGovRoads. A Manitoba 511 app can be downloaded from the Manitoba resident portal at: residents.gov.mb.ca/apps/511.html. Send your email address to email@example.com to register for email notifications about provincial road closings and openings, such as emergency closings and closings for construction and maintenance.
4) For Owners and Users of Private Wells: Check out the Fact Sheets at https://www.gov.mb.ca/health/publichealth/environmentalhealth/water.html and http://www.manitoba.ca/asset_library/en/spring_outlook/wellwater_safety_factsheet.pdf
To reduce the risk of well water contamination during a flood:
• Shut off electrical power to the well pump.
• If time permits, contact a licensed well driller or plumber to inspect and fix any cracked or damaged well casing, and install a waterproof or flood proof well seal.
• Alternatively, securely wrap the well casing and vented well cap in heavy plastic and secure with electrical tape.
• Place sandbags around the well to protect the well from floating debris in floodwaters.
5) If you will be in contact with floodwater (eg sandbagging, etc) or have questions about floodwater, check out the Floodwater and Your Health Fact Sheet at http://www.manitoba.ca/flooding/health_safety.html. The best way to protect yourself is to wear protective clothing – gloves, boots, overalls, etc. – and wash your hands with soap and warm, running water for at least 15 seconds:
• after sandbagging
• after contact with floodwater
• after handling garbage or debris contaminated with floodwater
• after handling animals or animal waste in a flood affected area
• after changing clothes worn to work in a flood affected area
• before eating or preparing food when you’re working in a flood affected area
• before touching other people when you’re working in a flood affected area
6) If you have to evacuate your home, check out www.manitoba.ca/flooding/evacuation.html for an evacuation checklist, tips on securing your home and dealing with pets.
7) Check out the tips and resources for dealing with the stress at: http://www.manitoba.ca/flooding/managing_stress.html.
8) After the Flood, go to http://www.manitoba.ca/flooding/flood_recovery.html for resources such as an excellent detailed booklet called After the Flood, links to Disaster Financial Assistance, Protecting Yourself from Mold, and Returning Home.
Kung may tinanim, may aanihin; health starts at home. Alagaan ninyo ang katawan at kalusugan ninyo! Take care, and mind your health!
About Dr. Denise Koh
Dr. Denise Koh is Manitoba’s Chief Occupational Medical Officer and a Medical Officer of Health in Environmental Health and Emergency Preparedness. She is a Public Health specialist with additional training and experience in Family Medicine and Occupational Medicine. Follow her writing at: https://healthmatterswithdradenise.blogspot.com/