Minnesota Department of Health Provides Flood Safety Tips

Residents in parts of northwestern Minnesota hit by flooding can take steps to safeguard their health, state health officials said."People living in flooded areas are or soon will be engaged in an often exhausting struggle to protect their communities," Minnesota Commissioner of Health Dianne Mandernach said. "By taking certain precautions, they also can protect themselves from flood–related illness or injury. Knowing what can and can't hurt them is important."

Minnesota Department of Health Offers Flood Safety Information

Residents in parts of northwestern Minnesota hit by flooding can take steps to safeguard their health, state health officials said.

"People living in flooded areas are or soon will be engaged in an often exhausting struggle to protect their communities," Minnesota Commissioner of Health Dianne Mandernach said. "By taking certain precautions, they also can protect themselves from flood–related illness or injury. Knowing what can and can't hurt them is important."

Here are some things to consider if you're in a flooded area:

Well contamination

People should assume their private well is contaminated if the well casing was under water or the floodwater came within 50 feet of the well, Mandernach said. Well water should not be used for drinking or cooking until the well and distribution system are flushed out, disinfected and tested for contamination. Meanwhile, they should use bottled water for drinking and cooking.

For detailed instructions on disinfecting and testing wells, people can contact their nearest Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) district office, she said.

CO poisoning

To guard against carbon monoxide poisoning, never use gas–powered generators or pumping equipment in enclosed or partially–enclosed spaces, she said. Generators can produce high levels of carbon monoxide quickly. When using a portable generator, remember that you cannot smell, taste or see carbon monoxide. The MDH strongly encourages using carbon monoxide alarms in your home, either battery–operated or plug–in models with battery backup.

"If you start to feel sick, dizzy or weak while using a generator or other gas–powered equipment, get to fresh air immediately. Do not delay," Mandernach said. "Carbon monoxide from gas–powered equipment can rapidly lead to full incapacitation and death."


To keep children safe

  • Don't let them play in or near floodwater or in areas that have flooded recently.
  • Wash your child's hands frequently, especially before meals.
  • Disinfect toys that may be contaminated by washing them with a solution of two ounces of bleach in one gallon of water.
  • Discard any soft toys that may be contaminated with sewage.
  • Young children may put these items into their mouths.

Food safety guidelines
  • Keep refrigerated foods as close to 41 degrees Fahrenheit as possible. If you lose power, your refrigerator will keep food cool for four to six hours if left unopened.
  • Keep frozen food from thawing. Without power, your freezer will keep food frozen for one day if the freezer is half full and up to two days if the freezer is full and left unopened.
  • Commercially canned foods in good condition are safe if you remove the labels. Wash sealed cans with warm water and detergent, and then disinfect them using a solution of one tablespoon of bleach to one gallon of clean water. Re–label the cans so you know what is inside. Destroy canned goods if the can surface is badly rusted or pitted, swollen or leaking, or badly creased or dented at the rims or seams.
  • Rigid plastic containers without a screw top are safe if they are not defective; the container has not been submerged in water or other liquids; any soil can be removed and the closure has no soil, rust or dents.
  • Discard foods that have come in contact with floodwater that are pre–packed in paper, boxes, glass jars with screw tops or other non–waterproof packages; frozen foods that have thawed and sat at room temperature for more than two hours and any items with unusual color or odor. "If in doubt, throw it out," Mandernach said.

Other tips and myths people should be aware of

  • Floodwater may be contaminated, but it is unlikely that simple skin contact — even with raw sewage — will make you sick. Generally, you must swallow floodwater, or something that's been contaminated with floodwater, to get sick. Wash your hands before you eat, drink or put anything in your mouth.
  • No outbreaks of infectious diseases have been reported in connection with the flooding, and there is no reason to believe that an elevated risk of an outbreak exists. State and local public health officials are monitoring carefully for any cases of infectious illness that might be connected with the flooding to ensure that they respond quickly in the event of an outbreak.
  • Public health officials routinely recommend getting a tetanus shot every 10 years. The flooding is not a reason to get one right now or to get shots for typhoid, polio or any other vaccine–preventable disease. However, people who get puncture wounds should talk to their physicians if they have not had a tetanus shot within the last five years, no matter where or how they got hurt.
  • The flood has driven various pest animals from their normal habitat, and it is possible some people could be bitten by rats. It is highly unlikely that rats carry rabies, and the MDH does not routinely recommend that people who are bitten by rats get rabies shots. If bitten, simply wash the bite area thoroughly with soap and water, see your doctor if signs of infection develop, and treat it like any other injury.
  • It is not known yet if flooding will affect the risk this year of diseases carried by mosquitoes, such as encephalitis and West Nile virus. Flooding does potentially affect breeding habitat for the mosquito that carries West Nile virus and western equine encephalitis. However, weather conditions before and after the flood will likely have greater impact on mosquito breeding conditions. Officials at MDH will continue to monitor the situation.
  • Used sandbags are safe to handle and dispose of as local officials direct.

To learn more about flood safety, please visit the Minnesota Department of Health site at www.health.state.mn.us