The cleanup from Hurricane Florence will take weeks and months. Infection prevention and urgent care experts from Atrium Health provide useful tips to make sure you avoid ending up a post-storm injury statistic.

News, Your Health | 2 months ago

Don’t Become a Post-Storm Injury Statistic: Follow These Tips

The cleanup from Hurricane Florence will take weeks and months. Infection prevention and urgent care experts from Atrium Health provide useful tips to make sure you avoid ending up a post-storm injury statistic.

After a week’s worth of destruction in the Carolinas, Hurricane Florence is no more. But the impact that the storm had on people will be felt for months to come. As the floodwaters recede and the cleanup begins, providers can expect to see illnesses and injuries mount.

“As with any condition, the elderly and the very young are more at-risk after a storm like Florence,” says James P. Griggs, MD, assistant specialty medical director of Atrium Health Urgent Care. “The elderly are often displaced from familiar surroundings and can become confused in a new setting.

Chronic Disease Challenges

Managing a chronic disease can be difficult – even when weather conditions are ideal. But when evacuation requests were made to areas that affected more than 1 million people, getting back onto a proper disease management schedule can be difficult.

Dr. Griggs says the most common issue seen at area urgent care locations was medication refill requests.

“Often patients had to leave home abruptly, forgetting to bring enough blood pressure or cardiovascular or diabetes medication with them,” Dr. Griggs says. “Thank goodness many of our patients come to the urgent care before their blood pressure or diabetes becomes out of control. Unfortunately, some of our patients end up in the emergency department or hospital when they try to go without their medications.”

Others who suffer from sleep apnea or chronic obstructive lung disease may have had to leave their CPAP, nebulizers or oxygen equipment at home, exacerbating those conditions. Many locations saw in increase in breathing treatments and/or steroids to help treat these patients.

Anu Neelakanta, MD, an infectious disease specialist with Atrium Health, also says it’s important for those who manage conditions like HIV to have an adequate supply of medication with them, so they may continue their course of treatment and avoid the risk of causing disease resistance.

Risks of Infectious Diseases

Emergency shelters provide needed respite at a time of need for many. Schools, churches, recreational centers and other similar locations are usually buildings that are built to ride out large storms.

But after the storm passes and people continue to remain huddled together in a small space, conditions are ripe for the spread of some illnesses.

“We often do see upticks in infectious diseases after hurricanes or weather-related disasters,” says Katie Passaretti, MD, medical director of infection prevention at Atrium Health, though she notes the proliferation of these diseases is more prevalent in less-developed countries. “We can see increases in things like colds and gastrointestinal illnesses – which result from having a large amount of people in shelters where they can be exposed to more things and there may be more limited hygienic measures or access to hand hygiene options. We also see an uptick in food poisoning if there are power outages that may cause food in refrigerators to be compromised.”

Dr. Passaretti also mentions the risks posed to areas without functioning plumbing and potable water.

“Flooding can increase the risk for exposure to waterborne illnesses (such as vibrio infection or leptospirosis, which are caused by bacteria often found in floodwaters) as well as a surge in standing water – which leads to a mosquito boom, and their associated diseases,” Dr. Passaretti adds.

If you do have an open wound – it will make you more prone to infection. Dr. Passaretti suggests keeping the wound covered with a waterproof bandage and emphasized good hygiene – washing hands after contact with flood waters and using hand sanitizers with alcohol if there is no access to clean water – to help prevent an infection from incurring. And pay attention to notifications or warnings from your local health department – they will be the ones testing and notifying the public about any concerns of public water supplies.

Common Injuries Treated After a Storm 

With cleanup efforts already underway, Dr. Griggs is sure to see an increase in bone fractures – but even more prevalent are sprains.

“We see a lot of ankle sprains and wrist injuries from people falling on an outstretched wrist or tripping over limbs or ladder missteps.

Other common injuries:

  • Eye injuries – Corneal abrasions often result from tree branches grazing the face and eyes, and improper eye protection while using chainsaws and other power equipment.
  • Rashes – Contact dermatitis is frequently known to occur with exposure to poison ivy or poison oak from removing debris, vines and trees.
  • Lacerations – Cuts occur especially from cleanup efforts using sharp blades, clippers and other outdoor equipment. Non-experienced users should take caution when using these tools.
  • Abrasions or infected cuts that were not properly cleaned when injured – This often happens with those who have gotten hurt while power or water are cut off.

Use Common Sense

Dr. Griggs has some good advice to avoid becoming a post-storm injury statistic.

For those using generators, carbon monoxide positing is a serious risk that leads to the unnecessary deaths of 66 people every year, according to data from the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

If patients or a whole family household comes to the emergency department or urgent care complaining of a headache, carbon monoxide poisoning is always something that is on providers’ radar, Dr. Griggs says.

Use common sense, he adds, when approaching flooded waters or downed power lines.

“Leave tree and limb removals to the professionals when power lines are involved,” Dr. Griggs says.