Hurricane floodwater can be dangerous. Here’s why you should stay out of it.

Floodwaters caused by Hurricane Idalia can contain many things harmful to our health.
Chad Hinchman looks around his flooded front yard in Pasadena as Hurricane Idalia makes landfall in the Big Bend region Wednesday.
Chad Hinchman looks around his flooded front yard in Pasadena as Hurricane Idalia makes landfall in the Big Bend region Wednesday. [ MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | AP ]
Published Aug. 30|Updated Aug. 30

Hurricane Idalia flooded the Tampa Bay area Wednesday even after the storm made landfall farther north in the Big Bend region. Homes and businesses in Tarpon Springs were inundated, while storm surge led to road closures and flooded houses along the Alafia River in Riverview.

If you’re in an area with flooding, it’s best to stay out of the water. Floodwaters can be dangerous for many reasons. They contain things that can be harmful to our health.

“We don’t know exactly what is in floodwater at any given point in time,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns in its guide to dealing with floodwater after a disaster or emergency.

Some of those things, according to the CDC, can include: human and animal waste, downed power lines, household waste, including hazardous chemicals, wild or stray animals, such as rodents and snakes, and more. Fire ants are known to cluster together and float.

Exposure to contaminated floodwater can cause infections on the skin, gastrointestinal illness and rashes, not to mention vibrio vulnificus, a flesh-eating bacteria that naturally occurs in warm seawater.

Vibrio cases are rare but spiked in Florida in the aftermath of last year’s Hurricane Ian, which made landfall near Punta Gorda. So far in 2023, there have been 31 cases of vibrio vulnificus in Florida. In 2022, there were 74. A CDC report determined that the increase was due to Hurricane Ian. Based on epidemiology from previous years, just three cases were expected in Southwest Florida in the weeks during and after the storm. But 38 vibriosis cases were confirmed in Lee and Collier counties from Sept. 29-Oct. 23, determined to be a result of the effects of Hurricane Ian.

If you have to interact with floodwater, wear rubber boots and gloves. If you do get exposed, wash the area with soap and water as soon as possible. Alcohol wipes or hand sanitizer will also work if you don’t have access to soap or water. Wash any contaminated clothes in hot water and detergent before wearing again.

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