The Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH) continues to monitor the health impacts of recent severe weather. Significant power outages, home repairs, and flooding can create dangerous and potentially life-threatening situations, even days after the storms have ended.
Mississippi residents should take the following special precautions against health risks after the storm:
Food Safety: Preventing Food-Borne Diseases
- The Mississippi State Department of Health advises throwing away all fresh food including fruits, vegetables and other produce that can become submerged.
- Throw away all screw cap or crimp cap containers that can become submerged.
- Discard any cold or cool food that has warmed. Food that is still frozen or cold (45 degrees Fahrenheit or less) is safe to prepare.
- MSDH advises that individuals should not eat any food that may have come into contact with contaminated water from floods or tidal surges.
- Commercially prepared cans of food should not be eaten if there is a bulging or opening on the can.
- Undamaged, commercially canned foods can be saved if you remove the labels and then disinfect the cans in a bleach solution. Use ¼ cup of bleach in one gallon of water; re-label the cans including expiration date and type of food. Assume that home-canned food is unsafe.
- If you are not breastfeeding, infants should be fed only canned baby formula. Do not use powdered formulas prepared with treated water. Use boiled water when preparing formula.
Floodwater and Drinking Water Safety
In times of severe weather or flooding, any loss or significant drop in your water pressure, even if it is brief, means that your water supply could be contaminated by groundwater. If you notice an interruption, loss of pressure, or significant drop in pressure in your water service, follow standard boil-water precautions below. If you are unsure of the safety of your water, contact your water supply operator.
If your area is officially notified that emergency water purification is necessary, MSDH advises the following:
- Vigorously boil water for at least a full minute before using.
- Treat chemically by adding unscented chlorine bleach in these amounts: two drops of bleach for each quart of clear water or four drops of bleach for each quart of muddy or dirty water. Let the water stand at least 30 minutes before using.
- Basic hygiene is very important during this emergency period. Always wash your hands with soap and water that has been boiled or disinfected before eating, after toilet use, after participating in cleanup activities and after handling articles contaminated by floodwater or sewage.
- Flooding that occurs after the hurricane may mean that water contains fecal matter from sewage systems, agricultural and industrial waste and septic tanks. If you have open cuts or sores exposed to the floodwater, keep them as clean as possible by washing them with soap and clean water. Apply antibiotic ointment to reduce the risk of infection. If a wound or sore develops redness, swelling or drainage, see a physician.
- Do not allow children to play in floodwater. They can be exposed to water contaminated with fecal matter. Do not allow children to play with toys that have been in floodwater until the toys have been disinfected. Use ¼ cup of bleach in one gallon of water.
Power Outages: Preventing Fire Hazards
Using battery-powered lanterns and flashlights is preferable to using candles.
If you must use candles, make sure you put them in safe holders away from curtains, paper, wood, or other flammable items.
Carbon monoxide is an invisible, odorless, tasteless gas, and is highly poisonous. Take the following precautions to help prevent carbon monoxide poisoning:
- Only use grills or generators outdoors. Do not use grills or generators inside a house, garage or any enclosed space.
- Symptoms of CO poisoning may include fatigue, weakness, chest pains for those with heart disease, shortness of breath upon exertion, nausea, vomiting, headaches, confusion, lack of coordination, impaired vision, loss of consciousness, and in severe cases, death.
- If you suspect you are experiencing any symptoms of CO poisoning, open doors and windows, turn off gas appliances and go outside. In cases of severe CO poisoning, call 911 emergency services or the Mississippi Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222.
Clearing Standing Water: Preventing Mosquito-Borne Illness
Heavy rains and flooding can lead to an increase in mosquitoes. Mosquitoes are most active at sunrise and sunset. Public health authorities will be working actively to control the spread of any diseases transmitted by mosquitoes.
To protect against mosquitoes, MSDH urges the public to remain diligent in their personal mosquito protection efforts. These should include the 4 D's for prevention:
- Dusk and Dawn — Avoid being outdoors when mosquitoes are seeking blood, for many species this is during the dusk and dawn hours.
- Dress — Wear clothing that covers skin.
- DEET — When the potential exists for exposure to mosquitoes, repellents containing DEET (N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide, or N,N-diethyl-3-methylbenzamide) are recommended. In addition to those containing DEET, insect repellents including the ingredients picaridin and oil of lemon eucalyptus in mosquito repellents are recommended for use on human skin. Always read the manufacturer's directions carefully before you put on a repellent.
- Drainage — Check your home to rid it of standing water in which mosquitoes can lay their eggs.
Mold and Mildew
Stagnant moisture can be an ideal source for mold growth – all it needs is a source of moisture, a place to grow, and food sources such as leaves, wood, paper or dirt. When airborne mold spores are present in large numbers, they can cause allergic reactions, asthma episodes, infections, and
other respiratory problems for people. Exposure to high spore levels can cause the development of an allergy to the mold.
If mold is a problem in your home, you need to clean up the mold and eliminate sources of moisture. Identify and correct the moisture source; clean, disinfect with bleach, then dry the moldy area; and then bag and dispose any material that has moldy residues, such as rags, paper, leaves or debris.
The MSDH neither regulates nor tests for mold. You should contact a commercial environmental consulting firm for services related to mold.
Follow MSDH by e-mail and social media at HealthyMS.com/connect.
Press Contact: MSDH Office of Communications, (601) 576-7667
Note to media: After hours or during emergencies, call (601) 576-7400