Mayo Clinic Health System: Be safe when cleaning after flooding

Published 7:30 pm Friday, March 15, 2019

With quick melting snow and warming temperatures, people are preparing to deal with the ramifications of constructive flooding, and physicians at Mayo Clinic Health System have several health-related tips people should keep in mind when safeguarding their homes and families, according to a press release.

According to the release, floodwater may be contaminated, but it’s unlikely that simple skin contact will make someone sick, even if raw sewage is visible. However, swallowing floodwater or anything that has been contaminated could make someone sick. Check with a physician or with local public health officials if someone shows signs of illness, including fatigue, nausea, swelling or fever, the release states.

In order to keep children safe, don’t allow them to play in or near floodwater or in areas recently flooded. In addition, parents are advised to:

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• Make sure their child’s hands are washed frequently, especially before meals.

• Disinfect toys that may be contaminated by washing them with a solution of 2 ounces of bleach in 1 gallon of water.

• Discard any soft toys that may be contaminated. Young children may put these items into their mouths.

Regarding food supplies, try to keep refrigerators close to 41 degrees Fahrenheit. If power is lost, a refrigerator will keep food cool for four to six hours if left unopened. In addition, people are advised to:

• Keep frozen food from thawing. Without power, freezers 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 the labels are removed. Wash sealed can with warm water and detergent, and then disinfect them using a solution of 1 tablespoon of bleach to 1 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 and seals.

• 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.

• “If in doubt, throw it out!”

Other health issues people should keep in mind include:



• Listen to and follow public announcements. Local authorities will tell you if tap water is safe to drink or to use for cooking or bathing. If the water is not safe to use, follow local instructions to use bottled water or to boil or disinfect water for cooking, cleaning, or bathing.

• Correctly boil or disinfect water. Hold water at a rolling boil for one minute to kill bacteria. If you can’t boil water, add 1/8 teaspoon of newly purchased, unscented liquid household bleach per gallon of water. Stir the water well, and let it stand for 30 minutes before using it. Water-purifying tablets can be used instead of boiling water or using bleach.

• For infants, use only pre-prepared canned baby formula. Do not use powdered formulas prepared with treated water. Clean children’s toys that have come in contact with water. Use a solution of 1 cup of bleach in 5 gallons of water to clean the toys. Let toys air dry after cleaning.



• People who are sensitive to mold may experience a stuffy nose, irritated eyes, wheezing or skin irritation. To protect lungs against mold, wear a mask while in an area that has mold growth.

• Clean up and dry out the building quickly (within 24 to 48 hours). Open doors and windows. Use fans to dry out the building.

• To clean moldy surfaces, use a mixture of one cup bleach to one gallon of water.  Wear gloves to protect your hands.



• Anyone who comes in contact with flood water should make sure they’re up to date on their tetanus shot.

• Tetanus can invade openings in the skin during flooding, causing a health issue called lockjaw.  Lockjaw causes a painful tightening of the muscles all over the body and can lead to “locking” of the jaw so a person cannot open his/her mouth or swallow.

• If you plan on helping others clean up from the flooding, you should make sure you’re up-to-date on your tetanus shot.  A person should have their tetanus shot once every 10 years.


Treat wounds

• Clean out all open wounds and cuts with soap and clean water. Apply an antibiotic ointment. Contact a doctor to find out whether more treatment is needed (such as tetanus shot). If a wound gets red, swells or drains, seek immediate medical attention.

Lastly, pace yourself and get support, the release states. Be alert to physical and emotional exhaustion or strain. Set priorities for cleanup tasks, and pace the work. Try not to work alone. Don’t get exhausted. Ask family members, friends or professionals for support. If needed, seek professional help.