7 health risks in the wake of Superstorm Sandy
An aerial view of flooded homes in Tuckerton, New Jersey, after Superstorm Sandy.
November 2nd, 2012
05:49 PM ET

7 health risks in the wake of Superstorm Sandy

In the wake of Superstorm Sandy, cold weather could put people returning to their homes at risk. Here is a bit about some of the health risks victims of the storm may face.

1. Carbon monoxide exposure

Dr. Howard Mell, spokesperson for the American College of Emergency Physicians, lists carbon monoxide exposure as the No. 1 risk for people returning to their homes. If they lack power, and the weather is cold, they should stay somewhere else before risking a fire or carbon monoxide poisoning by using appliances such as generators or stoves indoors to heat their homes.

"A lot of these injuries come about because some of these people are in such a rush to get back into their homes,"  says Mell.  

Know the symptoms of CO poisoning

2. Infections and injuries from floodwaters

There are also possible dangers from bacteria infections, hand and eye injuries, electrical injuries and mold exposure from floodwaters.

The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene advises people to take extra precaution around all floodwaters, especially water that may contain sewage or toxic industrial materials. Floodwaters may contain bacteria, viruses and chemicals that could make you sick.

Also, stay away from downed power lines and assume all power lines are live. Be aware there could be sharp objects in the water. Mell says hand and eye injuries are common because people may forget to wear gloves and protective glasses during cleanup.

It is also possible there is sewage in the water, and exposure can lead to gastrointestinal diseases, stomach or intestinal infections. Throwing out any food that was touched by sewage water is important.

3. Mold

Mold is a concern that may develop after your home has been exposed to standing water for an extended period. Getting the water-damaged items dried and removed is important to prevent mold growth after a flood.

4. Hypothermia

Staying warm with no power can be a challenge, especially in winter weather.

Mell suggests wearing several layers of fairly loose clothing, as each layer helps to trap the warm air. Drink warm, sweet things like hot chocolate or coffee or tea with sugar to help maintain body temperature.

When inside, try to keep the heat in and the cold out. Close off unneeded rooms, stuff towels in window cracks and under doors and cover windows with blankets. Don't drink alcohol because it causes the body to lose heat faster.

If you think someone could have hypothermia, check their temperature, call for help and lie close to them to share your own body heat. Give the person something warm to drink.

5. Contaminated drinking water

According to the New York City Department of Health, it is safe to drink tap water in an area with flooding. Sewage overflows usually do not affect water supplies in New York City, bit it's a case-by-case issue. Some local water utilities in New Jersey and Connecticut are under a "boil-water advisory."  But if you see or smell something odd about the water, don't drink it.

Most public drinking water across the greater New York metropolitan area, including New York and Nassau and Suffolk counties, is fine to drink and does not need to be boiled, Marci Natale of the New York State Department of Health, said in an e-mail.  But, she adds, some areas are experiencing problems. "The largest problem area is Long Beach City in Nassau County, which normally serves about 35,000 people."

The department as of Friday was tracking 26 systems under advisories: 23 systems under boil water orders (21 caused by Sandy), and three systems under "do not use/do not drink" orders (all caused by Sandy).

6. Spoiled food

Don't forget about food safety, especially if your food wasn't properly refrigerated or was exposed to floodwaters. Throw away any food or drinks touched by sewage water, including packaged foods, because they can't be appropriately disinfected - a screw-top on drinks where your mouth will make contact, for example.

7. Exacerbation of health conditions

Mell says exacerbation of chronic health conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure is extremely likely in the wake of Superstorm Sandy. People don't have access to their prescriptions, don't know how to get to their pharmacies or how to get in touch with their doctors so they don't take the needed drugs, he says. "Daily meds are still important, not something that can be skipped because it's convenient."

soundoff (66 Responses)
  1. mr chand

    and they forgot the most important one...which is "Depression"

    November 2, 2012 at 18:56 | Report abuse | Reply
    • ashleykade

      Agreed, depression is going to be massive. So many people are under insured or not even insured for this type of storm damage (I'm sure the insurance companies will classify this as something else that even less are covered for).

      November 3, 2012 at 14:07 | Report abuse |
  2. universologist

    If only they could drink more than 16 ounces of soda.... then they wouldn't even have to worry about dirty water.

    November 2, 2012 at 19:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. cj

    How about all the rats that will be vacating the subway. That cannot be good either.

    November 2, 2012 at 19:34 | Report abuse | Reply
    • ozarkmom40

      The rats seem like they will be a huge problem. Especially the dead ones that are rotting in the water all in the subway 🙁

      November 3, 2012 at 00:39 | Report abuse |
  4. Tg fron NOLA

    I would add a few more after experiencing Katrina and other hurricanes in New Orleans. Fatigue...you still need to get rest.everything will not get resolved fast and the govt works slow. Do what you can but stil eat and get some sleep to rejuvenate To fight the battles the next day. Depression, ESP if you are already diagnosed..go to hospital ER or md and get your meds....talk to others to help you out. Depression can be more detrimental than anything else and with this disaster it can set in very fast. And by all means CRY,.....release all your anger and frustration as it does not help to keep it in. It is ok to cry for your losses even if they are material items.

    November 2, 2012 at 21:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Tg fron NOLA

    Please add DEPRESSION as #8 to this article. It is very important!

    November 2, 2012 at 21:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. David

    It blows my mind that people would built houses out into the water like this. As if hurricane's don't happen every year. And who in there right mind would rebuild here, IT WILL happen again.

    November 2, 2012 at 21:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Louisiana Vet

    Junkies and looters – about now have run out of drugs and booze. Drug supplies are interrupted; illegal sources of money to buy drugs are interrupted; you are now a target for crazy people looking for easy money or drugs – do not look like an easy target and watch where you go.

    November 2, 2012 at 22:41 | Report abuse | Reply
    • QC, Canada

      I'd been wondering the same thing – what do junkies do?

      November 4, 2012 at 16:33 | Report abuse |
  8. shrinktofit

    We've all seen news clips of people wading around chest deep in floodwater and I've always wondered if they understand the risks with that. Certainly some are doing it out of desperation, while others do it to entertain themselves. I wonder how entertaining it will be when he steps into an open manhole that's sucking 1,000 gallons of water.

    November 3, 2012 at 02:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. New York

    8. letting Yourself Go Crazy with too much "news" instead of caring for yourself, your neighbors, and the basics.

    November 4, 2012 at 00:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Ajax

    I was in the 1951 flood in Kansas City. All schools vaccinated the children for typhoid, diptheria, etc. With sewers backing up cholera is possible. I pray for them. Floods are the disasters that just keep on giving. When it's humid, New Yorkers will smell the after math of the flood for years.

    November 4, 2012 at 09:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. labalou

    how does it feel? to be on your own? like a complete unknown,like a rolling stone...

    November 5, 2012 at 03:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. parkins123

    One thing that I haven't seen mentioned anywhere is the use of what backpackers call "vapor barrier insulation". Plain english translation – a simple garbage bag poncho worn againt the skin or, more comfortably, over a tee shirt will keep you warm at sub-zero temperatures, especiallly when combined with "bread bag stockings".

    November 5, 2012 at 08:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. chidi

    this is very crazy what hurricane sandy did to alot of people.I had no light for like 1 week and a half and it was very cold

    November 5, 2012 at 11:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. jasper corian

    sometimes you have to ponder, why such a devastation happens
    why & you might need to be more religious,
    why not you move near the mountain range & desert
    life must be more resilient like on tv doomday tripper
    take care, stay safe secured, stay alive

    November 6, 2012 at 02:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Michel Niles

    sandy has finishes so many houses and it is very bad.it takes so much time to overcome with this

    Auto insurance claims

    November 6, 2012 at 06:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. And

    #8 – Republicans.

    November 6, 2012 at 13:04 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Hez316

      There arent many republicans in jersey so you shouldnt worry too much. Must have been a miracle the governor was elected

      November 9, 2012 at 20:47 | Report abuse |
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