Flood, now it’s an infection alarm: what is the risk?

L’Emilia Romagna, still grappling with the serious consequences of the floods of recent days, is also facing a further health emergency. Currently, a growing concern is the risk of infections associated with recent floods. The waters that spilled during the disaster may have been contaminated by sewage systems, chemicals and agricultural or industrial waste, with possible consequences for public health.

After the flood, the health alarm goes off

The alarm regarding the risk of infections following the flood was launched by the Italian Society of Environmental Medicine (SIMA). Interviewed by La7, the president Alexander Miani he said: “After a flood, the risk of infections increases, especially for the elderly and children. From hepatitis A to bacterial infections due to Escherichia coli or Salmonella». Furthermore, stagnant water attracts mosquitoes, which «increase the rrisk of transmission of other diseases».

Concerns also shared by Matthew Bassetti, director of infectious diseases of the San Martino hospital in Genoa: «Today the real risk for the inhabitants of the flooded areas in Romagna are infections which could be really serious. Living with and having continuous contact with sewage water and water that has been in contact with animal carcasses places the most fragile population – children and the elderly – at risk of gastroenteritis, dermatitis and conjunctivitis. Beware of hepatitis A, salmonella, colibacteria, but also amoeba and leptospire. The risk of epidemics is possible and must be avoided by all means.

In Conselice, in the Ravenna area, yesterday the director of the Local Health Unit (Ausl) of Ravenna and the vice president of the Region with responsibility for Civil Protection arrived, Irene Priolo. Healthcare executives also confirm the presence of potential dangers from skin or gastrointestinal infections. The possibility of carrying out preventive vaccinations as a prophylactic measure is being evaluated. In Conselice it could take 10 days for the water to be able to drain completely.

Emilia-Romagna flood, the rules to follow

To deal with this situation, the Municipality of Ravenna has issued a vademecum prepared by theLocal Health Authority (Ausl) Romagna. The objective of this document is to provide guidelines and rules of conduct for the citizens and volunteers involved. In order to reduce the risk of water contamination, correct behaviors are suggested to be adopted, including a series of advice on cleaning and disinfection which are reported in the handbook.

The indications provided aim to reduce the risk of infections due to waste water. AND always wear boots or sturdy footwear for protection, avoiding slippers or flip flops. It is recommended to avoid children playing in areas flooded with water and mud. Also, it is suggested to wear gloves in case of anticipated contact with water and it is recommended to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and running water. As for clothes that could be contaminated by mud and sewage, it is recommended to wash them with hot water.

For the clothing recommended during the removal and disposal of material and mud, it is advisable to wear waterproof gloves that are easily washable and disinfectable. Furthermore, it is advisable to use boots or suitable footwear in waterproof material, which can be easily washed and disinfected. L’clothing should be washable at 60°C, or you can opt for a disposable overalls or overalls in easily washable and disinfectable material. If possible, it is also suggested to wear goggles or a face shield in washable and disinfectable material.

However, the Emilia-Romagna Region underlines that there is currently no health alert in flood-affected areas. The recommendations provided by the Ausl are considered as general guidelines, to be followed to avoid the potential risks deriving from the accumulation of water still present in the Ravenna area. Let us therefore examine the indications contained in this handbook and what are the advice to follow after the dramatic flood that hit Emilia-Romagna.

The risks: tetanus, gastrointestinal infections and molds

Among the dangers highlighted in the document, emphasis is placed on the risk of tetanus. It is emphasized that it is necessary to be vaccinated against tetanus and that the vaccination must be valid (the last booster dose must have been given within the last 10 years). The Local Health Authority (Ausl) invites people who need a vaccination booster to go to the vaccination clinics in the offices of Lugo, Faenza, Ravenna and Cervia during opening hours without the need to book. Furthermore, the possibility of carrying out the vaccination without an appointment at the Casa della Comunità di Conselice is indicated, only for residents of the municipality, on the morning of Friday 26 May, from 9:30 to 13:00.

Another highlighted risk is that of gastrointestinal infections. When floods affect the sewage system and wastewater, the risk of contracting infections involving the gastrointestinal system and manifesting itself with symptoms such as vomiting and/or diarrhea increases. For this reason, it is recommended to avoid touching the eyes, nose and mouth with muddy hands and wash whenever possible with soap and water.

Lending is also important beware of molds and spores which can develop due to standing water and humidity. These molds and spores can pose a health hazard. It is advisable to ventilate the areas of the house affected by the flood as much as possible, in order to favor the drying of walls and floors. In case of close contact with surfaces covered in mould, it is recommended to cover the nose and mouth with a cloth or mask, preferably of the FFP2 type.

Recommendations also for running water and electricity

The handbook also provides information on theuse of running water. For areas affected by the flood, it is recommended to refer to the information provided by the municipality of residence to find out whether the water supplied is drinkable or not.

With regard to electricity and gas, it is emphasized not to turn on the light, gas or electrical appliances if the system or sockets have been wet. Re-ignition should only take place after a qualified person has carried out a check. Particular attention should be paid to combustion generators, as they can produce carbon monoxide. It is suggested to use them preferably outdoors, in well-ventilated areas. Recommendations also for combustion generators, for example to be careful as they can emit carbon monoxide and other dangerous substances which are odourless. Therefore, it is important to use them safely, preferably in well-ventilated, outdoor areas.

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